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Colorado Fairs See Better Economy and More Young People in 2017 Season

2/17/2017

By Timothy Herrick

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In spite of budgetary cuts on the state level and trying to better manage entertainment dollars, Colorado fairs look forward to 2017 with optimism, boosted by what Jim Abendschan, a director of the Colorado Association of Fairs and Shows, sees as an a brighter economic outlook.

The economy is doing well," said Abendschan, who is the former fair manager of both the Arapaho County Fair and El Paso County Fair. "The economy has turned around quite a bit and so I would says the fairs are really looking forward to this year. I read the other day where the unemployment in Colorado is the lowest it has been since 2001, so the economy is good."

Attendance seems to be rising or at least holding steady for most fairs, and according to Angie Cue, Executive Secretary of the Colorado Association oPhoto By f Fairs and Shows. "Our feedback has been positive as the fair spirit continues to thrive in both our rural and especially in urban areas.  Fairs do a great job marketing to our urban cousins."

Higher Attendance
Colorado Association of Fairs and Shows represents 43 events, and the annual convention, held in November, had 138 attendees, which according to the association was slightly higher than the 2015 turnout.

One of the highlights of the meeting was a more extended entertainment showcase, which featured more than 10 acts each performing about 20-30 minutes each. "They were pretty standard," said Abendschan. "There were new magicians and jugglers and more ground acts. The ground acts are growing."

What seems on the downswing are fairs booking expensive headline entertainment. With rising star and production costs and undependable drawing power, Abendschan said the trend this year is more conservative attitude among fairs for entertainment spending. "You see more fairs with regional and local acts," he said. "I've only known one fair who can still afford big name entertainment, it's not cost effective for more fair, in my opinion. With the ground acts, there's more bang for the buck, and it's a surprise for people who walk around the corner and see a ground act. With music, there is definitely more local bands."

Volunteers & Sponsorships
Some of the leading seminars include: What's up with 4-H?; Advertising, Get the most bang for your buck!; 1. Livestock Updates;  What makes your fair unique?; What do vendors want?; Funny Entertainment; Sourcing and Writing Grants; Volunteer Program Best Practices, Using Your Pure Imagination! and Hacking Traditional Sponsorships. 

According to Abendschan, the workshops on volunteers and sponsorship drew large crowds. "Volunteer recruitment is very important, most of the smaller fairs have hardly any paid staff," he said. "And fairs are always looking for more sponsorships.  What  types of opportunities like sponsorship that develops a revenue stream is often discussed. Fair managers come to the convention look for more economical ways to run their fair." 

While Abendschand was unable to comment if the improved economy has resulted in more sponsorships for fairs, but one reason that fairs are seeking to save on labor costs and enhanced revenue stream has been a near-lack of financial support by state and county. "Government support has gotten less and less every year and fairs are having to get more self sufficient," he said. "There is less and less for fairs in the budgets."
 
"It is the smaller fairs that suffer the most from funding cuts so they are eager to learn more about gaining sponsorship funding from community members," said Cue. "The larger fairs feel it less with funding cuts due to larger budgets. Networking with smaller fairs at our convention grows more and more important."

While a crucial component of most conventions, with the downward spiral of support by a belt-tightening legislature, the exchange of ideas and solidarity of gathering with colleagues has become more important for attendees to the annual meeting of the Colorado Association of Fairs and Shows.

"It's a huge benefit for the fair, have a networking," Abendschan added. "We can rely on other managers to exchange ideas, we know each other and if run into a glitch, we email each other and ask questions.  Besides the annual convention, we have a managers group that meets twice a year, once in March and once right before the convention. Networking is very important to the organization, especially with the budget cuts and the need to find other revenue sources."

Drones Soar
Abendschan mentioned that the "Legality of Drones in Public Places" was a very popular, well-attended seminar.  "I think one trend will be more drones in different ways this year," he said. 

The annual convention of the Colorado Association of Fairs and Shows also saw the election of some new officers including Les Linman, Delta County Fairgrounds as Southwest Director and Laura Boldt, Boulder County Fair was "board appointed for one year," said Cue.

In addition, awards given out at the convention included  Fair Person of the Year:  Scotty Engelhardt, Kiowa County Fair; Fair Manager of the Year:  Terry Schaaf, Archuleta County Fair; Fair Book Contest:  Middle Park Fair and Rodeo; Directory Cover:  Park County Fair; Directory Centerfold:  Park County Fair; Royalty Poster Contest:  Cheyenne County Fair and Rodeo; Royalty Centerpiece:  Boulder County Fair.

Cue added that overall fairs are more upbeat for 2017.  Noting that unlike some fair associations, the membership is beginning to get less gray. "Attitudes are more optimistic as we are all passionate about our fairs, our kids and our communities," she said. "We see younger fair board members every year so the traditions can continue with more ideas and more energy to make our fairs great."

More younger people attended the annual convection than in previous years, agreed Abendschan. "There's a young professional group forming, and you are seeing more young people on the fair boards. There are more young people in Colorado choosing fairs either as a profession or to volunteer their time for."

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