Florida is a bellwether state when it comes to fairs. Not only does the Sunshine State host some of the first fairs of the year, that state's fairs hold the first state association of fair gatherings.
The Florida Federation of Fairs Annual Convention and IAFE Zone 2 Meeting, held May 18-20 had an increase in attendance, from both Florida fair professionals as well as fair members from others states, who often attend to see what is being showcased and discussed at one only fair association meetings taking place in the second quarter.
Bigger & Better
The Florida group represents 51 Florida Fairs, and attendance was 525, "including 25 fair attendees from Fairs in other Zone 2 states," said Lisa Hint
on, Executive Director, Florida Federation of Fairs. This was a substantial increase over 2016 attendance of 406, which Hinton credits with the organization making significant strides in making the meeting itself more relevant and rewarding to attendees. "We offered a solid program and a good educational event," she said. "And we combined that with a very social and networking event, and we've continued to grow."
She added that another enticement was the location of the meeting - Hilton Buena Vista Palace in Orlando - "which is a great family vacation destination."
The growth was not just in attendance, but in exhibitors - a sign that compared to other state association meetings, the Florida event is a showcase, especially for fairs looking to fill in entertainment gaps or need services for their fairs later in the year. Booths increased from 92 to 113 booths, and Hinton pointed out that the organization's associate members had soared to 110. "We had a lot of booths that were new to the Florida market," she said, although she could not delineate any trends among the rise. "It was across the board, there were more services and supplies. The entertainment was more grounds acts and free entertainment. There were 12 showcases during the event."
Recognizing the importance of the associate members to the success of Florida Fairs was actually a goal of this year's conference. As Hinton explained, the 2017 meeting theme was a Fresh Coat of Paint. "Many changes were made to the convention format," she said. "The Friday luncheon was held in the trade show to give exhibitors more exposure to the fair attendees."
In addition, "instead of Associate introductions at the Opening Session, all associates were given the opportunity to have a 30 second video that was shown on a LED screen throughout the trade show."
The mood at the convention and of Florida Fairs was upbeat. "Our Florida and Zone 2 Fairs are very optimistic about the future," she said.
This positivity was mostly due to an overall increase in attendance for fairs and generally a positive 2016 and first quarter of 2017, when many of the leading Florida Fairs take place. "Most of our fairs indicated a positive trend in attendance," said Hinton. "In general, Florida fairs were up, although up slightly. The combination of the uniqueness of fairs and the entertainment value of what fairs offers are still very popular among consumers. Fairs are affordable family entertainment and compete successfully with theme parks in Florida. Theme parks are expensive and do not offer everything fairs do, plus fairs are once-a-year and that attracts people."
A fly in the optimistic attitude ointment for Florida Fairs was apprehension over fair funding by the Florida legislature. Like many states, funding for fairs has been reduced in recent years as state governments opt for a more austere budget policy, and in Florida, premium funding is part of the current budget, but the budget still has not been signed. "Premium funds for fairs are currently in the state budget, however, the budget has not yet been approved by the Governor,' said Hinton.
The whittled down funds have been a perennial line item in the budget year and while it is doubtful passage is contingent on these funds, the fact that the budget hasn't been sign and we live in what can be unpredictable political times. "The budget is expected to pass, and we had the votes to keep the funding in the budget," she said. "We're hopeful, but with politics, you never know."
The decision is expected to be made by June 15th. Apprehension aside, Florida fair confidence in the state house has been bolstered by an ongoing and robust lobbying effort spearheaded by the Florida Federation of Fairs. "Our lobbyist is very active," she said. "We have a group of fairs who go with the lobbyist to meet with legislators, and educate them about fairs. We are trying to a create a better relationship with the state Agriculture Commissioner, and he seems to believes in fairs. We have to have closer ties with him."
Fair security was an issue uppermost on the minds of most of the convention attendees. The workshop seminars and according to Hinton, a two-part seminar: 'Active Shooter Preparedness,' was one of the most popular and discussed workshops, as well as 'It Really DID Happen! Incident Reports From Our Insurance Partners.
"There were a variety of workshops and speed round table sessions that covered a huge variety of fair topics," said Hinton.
Other worships included: 'Great Ideas For Bringing Groups To Your Fair'; ' Humor: Effective Use In The Workplace'; 'Making An Ordinary Sponsorship Extraordinary!' ; 'Farm To Fork - What is it and how can you use it at your Fair' ; 'FDACS Real Time Ride Inspection Program' ; 'Pros and Cons of Strolling Acts versus Stationary Acts' ; and 'How To Involve Your Vendors In Your Competitive Exhibits.'
Another highlight was the 'What Does The New DOL Rule Mean to Your 2017 Budget.' In Florida, a new ruling mandated new overtime rules and this seminar discussed the impact the increases will have on fairs and their vendors.
The Florida Federation of Fairs also inducted new officers, including: President - Dawn Rowe, Osceola County Fair and KVLS; 1st Vice President - Paul Davis, Florida Strawberry Festival; 2nd Vice President -Bill Olson, CFE, Greater Jacksonville Ag Fair; and Secretary/Treasurer, Jim Ward - Pasco County Fair.
Awards bestowed at the convention were: Florida Ag Hall of Fame: Pete Sutton (retired from the Clay County Fair); Federation Associate of the Year Award: Charlie Smith with Populous; and IAFE Institute of Fair Management Scholarship: Paige Poole, South Florida Fair.
One of the other changes to the convention that Hinton implemented was transforming the Saturday Night Banquet into "a Gala with the presentation of all awards, a showcase, and dancing," she said. On a more somber note, at the Gala, "a special video was presented recognizing those in the Florida Fair industry that have passed away over the past year."