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  • Jacksonville Fair Concludes 2014 season With Record Midway
    1/26/2015
    Many in the Fair industry see Florida as a business barometer. Because of its subtropical climate, but when fall begins to turn to winter in the rest of the U.S., Florida hosts some of the first and final fairs of the year. Florida is a bellwether state, a kind of canary in the coal mine where industry members look for signs of how healthy the industry was, is, and will be.

    The Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair, which ran November 5-11 is one of the last fairs of the year. Fair industry watchers looking for tea leaves to read will find that the successful 2014 Jacksonville event indicates that the fair industry has shed much of its doldrums. As a new year dawns and a new fair season looms, Jacksonville justifies an optimistic forecast for 2015.

    Right Direction
    The largest of the final fairs of the season, the Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair had a notable uptick in attendance, a slightly higher increase in spending and perhaps more importantly, according to Martha Leverock, these positive numbers also show a positive trend. "Last year (2013) was good and 2014 was even better and I can say the fair is turning in the right direction," said Martha Leverock, President of the Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair.

    Attendance reached 382,472, according to Leverock, an increase in the ballpark of 7 percent, "but the spending was up higher than the attendance," said Leverock. "There were lines of fairgoers everywhere, at food stands and rides and exhibits. I haven't seen lines like that in a while. The economy seems to have turned around, and I think we are starting to feel the impact of that turnaround."

    Leverock would not reveal specific spending or fair revenue for 2014, but said that while business was good no record days were set. She added that Florida and the local economy suffered greatly from the Great Recession, "in 08 and 09, things were really bad. This area was hit hard, and fewer people came to the fair and they were really watching what they were spending,"  she said. But in 2014, with employment rising and some tough economic adjustments being made, "we are doing better. I don' t think it is that dramatic, but you see more improvements every year," Leverock added.

    Best Midway Ever
    This steady upswing in the economic well being of the Jacksonville fair and the community that supports it was most evident at the midway. "We had the biggest year we have ever had," said Charles Panacek, president of Belle City Amusements Inc., who has provided the midway for the Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair for the past six years. "It is a good fair, and we have always done well in Jacksonville."

    This relationship between fair and midway provider has been so positive Belle City Amusements and the Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair just signed a mulita-year contract, according to Panacek.

    Aside from what appears to be a steady uptick in consumer confidence and the regional economy, the weather was cooperative for the fair. Because of the timing in the calendar year, Leverock describes the Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair as an evening fair. Although a few nights dipped into the 60s, cool for November in the area, "the weather was very comfortable, especially nights," said Leverock. "Overall, it was a good fair."

    Calendar Cooperation
    The dates of the fair also aligned with Veterans Day, enabling an effective promotional opportunity, as well as a School Holiday the local school systems add extra days into the calendar in case that weather events causes school closures. But severe storms didn't reach Florida this hurricane season, so the school was not in session for a Monday, which was declared a School Holiday and resulted in a three day weekend. "I'm sure that School Holiday and three day weekend helped attendance," said Leverock. "We were able to get more kids on that day."

    Another fairgoer enticement caused by the 2014 calendar was that the NFL team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, had away games. The Jacksonville Fair & Expo Center is directly adjacent to Everbank Field, and some parking is shared. "We do not really get much attendance from people going to the games," said Leverock. "When there's no game during the fair, there are no parking problems and that Sunday is always better."

    Gator Country Music
    The Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair features free entertainment, with VIP seating for some acts. The fair partners with a local Country Music station to feature the "Gator Country Music Series".  The station books the country acts, which are the bulk of the entertainment, as well as provides additional promotion and produces live spots from the fairgrounds. 

    The focus this year was on up-and-comer type acts, such as J. Collins Band and Thompson Square, as well as Lindsay Ell, American Idol winner Scotty McCreery, and RaeLynn, a star of the "The Voice" whose single, "God Made Girls" was the highest charting debut single by a solo female in 2014. Brett Eldredge, who earned  a  Country Music Association Award nomination for "New Artist of Year," and has a current hit single, "Mean to Me", was probably the biggest draw, according to Leverock.  "He was our biggest national act this year" said Leverock. "He had the most people and people really liked him."

    She added that country music has always been the dominant musical choice for entertainment,  and the partnership with the radio station makes economic sense. "They've been a sponsor for at least five years. It has worked out well."

    In addition to the music series being a high point of the 2014 fair, Leverock emphasized that agricultural exhibits celebrating Florida's farming industry remains an important part of the fair's mission. "We had great educational programs this year, and were able to give scholarships, have 4-H competitions and have high school interns," said Leverock. "We had great cattle and crop exhibits. But people come here wanting to learn about farming, and they get an education, seeing chickens or how milk is gotten from  the cow. That's always been an important part of the fair."

    Record Revenue
    The highpoint of the fair was unmistakably the robust showing of the Belle City midway, which Panacek said was a record year, " a 5 to 6 percent increase in the total ride gross," he said. "The weather was good, and the advertising and marketing the fair did at the gate and that we did helped a lot."

    The promotional discounts Belle City Amusement instituted included a dollar night, and a $5 off armband. "We do discounts on the weaker nights of the week, and they really paid off this year," he said.

    The  Zycklon Roller Coaster had its Jacksonville premier in 2014, and another highlight for fairgoers was the Moon Raker, which made its return the fair after a several year hiatus. But Panacek insisted that the most popular rides were the classic standbys that fairgoers have to come to expect. "The Giant Wheel is always the most popular, and the Rock & Roll Himalaya," he said.

    Panacek added, "the layout of the midway at Jacksonville is somewhat restrictive, and there are a lot of curves and fences you have to work around, but we changed it up a little."

    The most significant change for Belle City was an expansion of the children's ride selection. "You see more young families and you want to cater to them. We had more kiddie rides this year," he said.

    Low Gas Prices
    The Jacksonville event is the last event of the year for Belle City Amusements. The company's season runs from February to November, with a territory that spans from the Midwest down to the Southeast. "The economy picked up last year and we are looking forward to a good year," he said. "We did see improvements in per capita spending and the overall economies doing better, although we are not quite where we ought to be yet."  

    This upbeat conclusion to what was a comeback year for the fair industry was underscored by the much welcomed drop in gasoline prices. "I think the impact of lower fuel costs was just being noticed at Jacksonville," he said. "It helped our bottom line and the I'm sure the fair and customers had more money to spend. This drop in prices will make a bigger difference for fairs if it continues."

    More significantly, the Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair proved to be "a very strong fair, it was a good year for Jacksonville," said Panacek. "Their promotions were good, and they have a committed, hard working staff which any successful fair needs. They've been many years working to make that fair what it is today."

    For Leverock, who joined the fair as a part timer in 1978, "the fair exceeded expectations. I think fairs are getting popular again, it was a good year. We offer people something they can't get anywhere else."

    She added, "fairs aren't in competition with each other, and we all offer something unique. We in Jacksonville love the fair industry."
  • New Maryland GM has Long History with Fair
    1/23/2015
    D. Andrew "Andy" Cashman has been General Manager of the Maryland State Fair by the Maryland State Fair & Agricultural Society Board of Directors. Cashman replaces Howard "Max" Mosner who is retiring from Maryland State Fair after 53 years of service. The move is a promotion for Cashman, who previously held the position of Assistant General Manager, which he was named to in 1997, after holding the position of Beef Superintendent for more than a decade. 

    But Cashman's passion for agriculture and the fair industry goes back far longer than working for the organizers of the Maryland State Fair.  Cashman grew up on a farm in Baltimore County, raised pigs, lambs and steer, even winning 4-H competitions at the age of nine. "I grew up with 4-H, at the Baltimore County Fair and the State Fair, I always thought it would be neat to work there," said Cashman. "I was always amazed at everything you could do at the fair, all the different foods, the horse racing, and of course all the 4-H activities. And, I'm still amazed."  

    "We are very fortune to have Andy who has the experience and enthusiasm for this important position," said F. Grove Miller, Chairman of the Board, Maryland State Fair.

    Cashman may have long been groomed for his new position, but Mosner may prove a tough act to follow. This fair industry veteran has received many awards and recognitions industry-wide, most recently being named 2009 IAFE (International Association of Fairs & Expositions) Board Chairman. Mosner was instrumental in developing a junior fair board at the Maryland State Fair and was a founder of the Maryland Association of Agricultural Fairs & Shows. He was inducted into the IAFE Hall of Fame in 2005 and is a past recipient of the Maryland Association of Agricultural Fairs & Shows Fair Person of the Year award.

    The Maryland State Fair, located at the Timonium Fairgrounds in Baltimore County, dates back to 1879 when a group of farmers held a four-day event designed to promote agriculture and horse racing in Baltimore County. Now an 11-day summer celebration, attracting more than 400,000 visitors each year, the Maryland State Fair features educational competitions, home arts, agriculture & livestock exhibits, thoroughbred horse racing, midway rides and games, local and national entertainment and a full range of fair foods. For Cashman, the fascination with the fair that he first felt persists throughout his professional life as a fair executive. 

    Cashman joined the Baltimore County Fair Board at 19, becoming its youngest president at 20 years old. He also served as president of the Carroll County Fair and general manager of the Eastern National Livestock Show.  In 2007, Cashman was the youngest person in the history of The Maryland Association of Agricultural Fairs and Shows to receive the title of Fair Person of the Year. He also serves on numerous IAFE committees.

    "By combining tradition, education and innovation we can continue to grow the Maryland State Fair into one of the country's top showcases of agriculture, education and entertainment," said Cashman. 

    For the 2014 fair,  Cashman was instrumental in implementing a new a new layout design of the midway. Deggeller Attractions has provided the Maryland State Fair midway fore than 30 years, and last year featured 41 rides. In cooperation with the midway company, Cashman consolidated Kiddie Land into its own mini-midway for the small children set. "The new Kiddie Land was less confusing, and it was definitely nicer for the smaller children," he said. "Rides  for children  used to be more spread out throughout the midway, but we now we put all the rides and children's activities in one area. The response was very positive."

    Cashman added that the new, expanded Kiddie Land was also located nearby fair management offices. "It is so much fun watch these kids have fun at the fair," he said. "We're trying to give a product to families, one that they come to year after and after. To see these kids enjoy the fair is wonderful."

    Another initiative Cashman promoted for the 2014 fair was Goat Mountain, a play-zone for about 30 goats, which also served as an interactive learning center for fairgoers. "it got a lot of attention, it was a great place to take a picture."

    Unlike his younger years when farm life was more common in Maryland, the majority of fairgoers now have little hands-on experience with farming.  A top priority for the new general manager of the Maryland State Fair is reminding fairgoers at every opportunity that agriculture in the Old Line State is alive and well.

    "Agriculture is still a leading industry in Maryland," said Cashman. "People in this state are now seven or eight generations away from the farm. People want to know more about where their food comes from, part of the mission is to teach and educate people about agriculture, and it's still a reason why they come to the fair." 

    Coinciding with his promotion, other executive positions opened at the Maryland State Fair. One of his first decisions was to appoint new personnel to top spots. Cashman has put together a new management team heading into 2015 and his freshmen year as skipper. The new team includes:  Becky Brashear, Assistant General Manager, Rebecca Williams, Operations Manager, Robert W. Fogle, Jr., Agriculture, Education Director, Edie M. Bernier, Publicity & Community Relations Director, and Bobbie McDaniel, Secretary to the General Manager.

    Although still in the planning stage, the new team is developing a new Maryland building with an state-wide, agriculture centered exhibition. "We want all 23 counties of Maryland represented, and each will have a space to showcase their county in terms of their agriculture and what is special about their county," said Cashman. "It is important for the state that the exhibition shows everything from across the state, so people know what is going on in Maryland. People have lived here for years, but don't know there's lumberjacking, maple syrup production and livestock."

    He added that new Maryland house will be "very hands-on, with a lot of computer and interactive displays."

    Cashman also takes over management of the fairgrounds, although unlike many fairs whose non-fair business has been hurting, the Timonium Fairgrounds weathered increased competition from nearby markets. "It's a steady year round business," Cashman. "We hardly have to do any marketing for the fairgrounds." Upcoming events closing out 2014 include a automobile show, a Model Train show, a thoroughbred horse event, an antique market and a field hockey and lacrosse tournament."

    Much of the strength of the fairgrounds has also bolstered the annual summer fair. "We have a prime location," said Cashman, who cited amenities with consumer-appeal, a light rail station, a park & ride, and free parking, with a lot of 900 spaces. "There's a convenience to the fairgrounds that's a real plus, and keeps us competitive."


  • Presentation & Customer Service make Big Daddy's BBQ a Success
    1/21/2015
    RALEIGH, N.C. --- If you're searching for some good grub at the North Carolina State Fair, it's hard to miss Big Daddy's Backyard BBQ stand.

    At an event featuring a dizzying array of food trailers set up across four midways, Big Daddy's stands out for its massive wood-fired grills cooking dozens of turkey legs. The grills fill the air with smoky flavor as potential customers pass by along one of the fair's main walkways.

    It's a feast for the eyes and the nose. The sizzle is tough to pass up, especially at lunch time. On the fair's final Saturday, the stand draws a big crowd as folks stop at the stand to buy a large turkey leg for $10.

    When the lines get too long at the stand's four cash registers, Big Daddy's workers walk around and sell tickets to be redeemed for turkey legs, said Neal Dorfman. He co-owns the business with Frank Zaitshik, owner of Wade Shows.

    "It's all about presentation and customer service," Dorfman said.

    Together, they launched the Big Daddy's brand two years ago. The stand also sells ribs, chicken, brisket and pulled pork. Separately, Dorfman runs several food concessions on his own, also booked with Wade Shows.

    Dorfman, 51, has been in the carnival business most of his life starting at age 14. He was previously a games concessionaire and at one time owned a Gravitron. He booked with the old Rod Link Shows, Deggeller Attractions and Sunshine Amusements, in addition to Wade Shows.

    His first job working in the carnival food business was with "Spaghetti Eddie" Porcelli. In the early 1980s, Dorfman booked food with Wade Shows and left the carnival in 2001. He suffered financially and filed for bankruptcy that year.

    "I lost everything," said Dorfman, also known as "Popcorn Neal" in the industry.

    Four years later, though, in 2005, Dorftman got back on his feet. In December of that year, Zaitshik called Dorfman and asked him to be his partner in the show's food operation after Butch Netterfield and his family parted ways with Wade Shows.

    Their partnership evolved into the spinoff known as Big Daddy's, a major food operation in itself. Its route covers the South Florida Fair in West Palm Beach, the Florida State Fair in Tampa, the Oklahoma and Tulsa state fairs and the Great New York State Fair, in addition to North Carolina.

    In Raleigh, business is "phenomenal," Dorfman said. Big Daddy's goes through 1,200 cases of turkey legs at the North Carolina State Fair.
    Individual cases carry 16 to 20 turkey legs. Do the math and it adds up to as much as 24,000 turkey legs sold over the course of the 11-day event.

    The business makes a tidy profit. This fall, turkey legs cost $1.85 a pound in North Carolina, up from $1.36 a pound in Oklahoma, Dorfman said.

    "Without the right people, I couldn't do it," he said. All told, Dorfman, through Big Daddy's and his other food trailers, employs 88 workers, 48 of which are international through the industry's H2B Visa program. In Raleigh, 22 internationals were on site working for Big Daddy's.

    In late October, at the same time as the North Carolina State Fair, Dorfman had popcorn concessions at the South Mississippi State Fair in Laurel, where Wade holds the contract.

    Jimmy Danton is the other primary food operator tied to Wade Shows, Dorfman said. All three, including Zaitshik, give back to the communities they serve through events that don't typically draw much attention.

    One of those events, called "Miles of Smiles," that is typically held a week before Christmas at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa. It's a benefit for children at risk.

    For three days, Wade officials provide unlimited rides, games, food and entertainment for kids that may not otherwise have much to celebrate over the holidays. It's all free and the state of Florida sends out the invitations through the state fair authority, Dorfman said.

    "Frank's a tough operator but he protects his people and does some great things for the industry," he said.




  • Virginia Ludy is named the New General Manager of the CNE
    1/20/2015
    Toronto, Canada -- "On behalf of the Board of Directors of the Canadian National Exhibition Association (CNEA), I am very pleased to announce the appointment of Virginia Ludy as the new General Manager of the CNE," Brian Ashton, President of the CNEA, stated today.

    "Following the announcement last fall that the CNE's current General Manager David Bednar would be retiring in the spring of 2015, the CNEA Board engaged in extensive discussions taking into account a complexity of considerations as to how best to fill David's shoes," Mr. Ashton said. "As a newly independent organization that is 136 years old, we were keenly aware of the need to mobilize our post-independence gains and stabilize our business environment, while at the same time greeting the future with enthusiasm and innovative thinking."

    "Virginia Ludy knows 'The Ex', loves 'The Ex' and is best prepared to move this organization forward in these ever changing times," Mr. Ashton elaborated. "She is the first woman ever to serve as General Manager of this fair, and will assume leadership of the organization in the spring."

    "I believe tremendous opportunities lie ahead for the CNE and I am very excited and honoured to have been appointed to lead the organization in fulfilling the vision established for the event by President Ashton and the Board of Directors," Ms. Ludy said.

    Serving most recently as the CNE's Assistant General Manager and Director of Operations, Ms. Ludy has wide ranging experience in the fair industry that encompasses more than 30 years. She is currently President of the Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions (CAFE), the fair-industry's national association, a Director of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE), and serves as Chair of the Amusement Devices Advisory Council for Ontario's Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA).
    Virginia has been a force within the CNE for more than three decades. As part of the CNEA Executive Team, she played a leadership role in designing a new Strategic Plan for the CNE. As Director of Operations, she managed a diverse and talented team in the areas of Emergency Planning and Preparedness, Security, Parking and Traffic Management, Gate Operations, Midway Rides and Food Services, Safety Engineering, Visitor Services and Guest Relations, Site Planning, and Event Services for the annual fair. She also leads the organization in the area of Business Development, a new portfolio, which has been created now that the CNEA is independent from Exhibition Place and the City of Toronto.

    "I have every confidence that Virginia will take the organization in exciting new directions while building on all that we have achieved as a team during my seventeen years as General Manager," David Bednar said.

    Virginia Ludy has a Bachelor of Applied Arts (Honours) in Geography from Ryerson University. She also has the following industry designations: Certified Fair Executive (CFE) from the International Association of Fairs & Expositions (IAFE), has completed and graduated from the Fair Institute Program, and has also successfully completed the Certified Exposition Manager (CEM) program with the Canadian Association of Exposition Managers (CAEM). She is a life-long resident of resident of Toronto where she resides with her husband and two children.

    The Canadian National Exhibition is Canada's largest fair and one of the top 10 agricultural exhibitions in North America. Founded in 1879, the CNE generates an economic impact of approximately $69.3 million for the Greater Toronto Area and $102.3 million for the province of Ontario each year. It is celebrated as the "greenest" fair in North America and attracted 1.43 million visitors over 18 days in 2014.

    The 2015 Canadian National Exhibition takes place from August 21 to September 7, 2015 at Exhibition Place in Toronto, Canada.



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Wade Shows
South Florida Fair
West Palm Beach, FL
1/16/2015 - 2/1/2015
Belle City Amusements
Charlotte County Fair
Port Charlotte, FL
1/30/2015 - 2/8/2015
Wade Shows
Florida State Fair
Tampa, FL
2/5/2015 - 2/16/2015
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San Antonio Livestock Show
San Antonio, TX
2/12/2015 - 3/1/2015
Deggeller Attractions
Martin County Fair
Stuart, FL
2/13/2015 - 2/21/2015
Belle City Amusements
Hendry County Fair
Clewiston, FL
2/13/2015 - 2/21/2015
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2014 TOP 50 FAIRS
1. Texas State Fair - Dallas, TX
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3. Minnesota State Fair - St. Paul, MN
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The Industry Buzz
Murray Brothers Inc. receives Outstanding Achievement in Rides award from the Greater Ohio Showmens Assn.
Tom and Deb Murray of Cincinnati, Ohio based Murray Brothers Inc. was the recipient of the 2014 award for "Outstanding Achievement in Rides", presented by the Greater Ohio Showmen's Association at the Ohio Fair convention held January 8-11, 2015.  Murray Brothers Inc. has been providing rides, games, and food to fairs, festivals, and fundraisers since 1981 and operates approximately 28 rides.  Posted by Matt Cook on 1/27/2015
Swyear Amusements honored with Friends of the IL County Fairs Award
During last weeks Illinois Association of Agricultural Fairs convention and trade show, Ray and Janice Swyear of Swyear Amusements were honored with the 2015 Friend of Illinois County Fair award.  Accepting the award on behalf of Janice and Ray were Kathy and Terry Swyear.  

Swyear Amusements of New Athens, Illinois, is celebrating its 57th year in the amusement industry, making it one of the oldest Illinois based traveling amusement companies and one of the longest serving associate members of the IAAF. Ray Swyear Rides was started in 1958 by Ray and Janice when Ray purchased a small kiddie train ride. With the birth of three sons and a strong work ethic, Ray, Janice, and the family built what is known today as Swyear Amusements.  With Ray's passing in 1997 and Janice's retirement in 2013, the show is now operated by their children, Terry and his wife Kathy; Roger and his wife Teresa; as well as their children.

Each year the IAAF recognizes individuals who are outstanding Illinois county fair supporters, volunteer workers, or innovators in the industry that are respected by their colleagues and peers at their 104th annual convention in Springfield.
  Posted by Matt Cook on 1/26/2015
IISF Announces Educational Seminar Schedule for Gibtown Trade Show
The IISF Trade Show has announced an official list of educational seminars and workshops for the 2015 trade show.  Seminars range from HB2 Visa workshops and training seminars, ride discussion, background check information, DOT compliance information, forklift training, serve safe food handling course, and much more.  Visit the IISA's web site for a complete listing by clicking here.  Posted by Matt Cook on 1/20/2015
IL Amusement Ride Safety Board Meeting Scheduled for 1pm on Thursday 1/15

The IL Amusement Ride Safety Board meeting will be held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Springfield, IL on Thursday, January 15, from 1 - 4 PM. The meeting typically involves a public comment period where ride owners and operators can ask questions and make comments.  The meeting will be held in conjunction with the IL Association of Fairs convention which also kicks off on Thursday.  For more information on the annual convention, please visit www.illinoiscountyfairs.org.

  Posted by Matt Cook on 1/9/2015
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
In our efforts to chronicle the history of our industry, we could think of no better way to further this endeavor than to interview industry pioneers and preserve their videos for posterity.

TYAUT Designs - Lap Bar Refurbishment & Grip Bars

KMG is a leading builder of spectacular amusement rides such as the Freak Out, Fire Ball (Afterburner), Speed, Inversion (Nemesis 360), and many more.

FOOD & GAME HELP WANTED FOR  TOP NOTCH midwest spring route followed by a GREAT summer route in Wisconsin.   Call Louie Rucobo at 920-251-3001.  Living quarters available and TOP EMPLOYEES GET TOP PAY!

Funway Amusements is now hiring for the 2015 season.  We are seeking general ride help, food help, and help in games especially the Duck Pond, Balloon Tag, Bank A Ball and more.  Call Nick at 985-774-8656

NEW Concession Trailers from Trailex - Formerly Caravans Unlimited.  Visit us at www.trailex.com or call 800-282-5042 for more info.

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