Attracting More Events is Goal for Blue Ribbon Fairgrounds
By Steve White, Grand Island Bureau Chief - bio | email
The Nebraska State Fair is off to a huge start in its first three years in Grand Island with nearly a million customers.
They spent $42 million to build the fairgrounds, so they'd like to see them get more use year-round.
Those in the industry have heard the talk. Wyoming Fair Director James Goodrich finally got a chance to experience the new Nebraska fairgrounds for himself.
"It's very impressive, very well done," he said, getting his first glimpse inside the massive cattle barn.
From California to Massachusetts, fair managers are in awe of what Nebraska has done, as the only state in 40 years to build from the ground up.
Jim Tucker is CEO of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions.
He said Nebraska has received a lot of attention.
"And our association is international, so there's interest not only in this country but the United Kingdom is very interested in what's happening here, as well as Canada," he explained.
These facilities hosted three junior national shows last summer. Marshall Ernst spent ten days in Grand Island. It was a memorable trip for the livestock director of the Western Stock Show in Denver, and not just because of an unexpected hospital stay.
Ernst said the facilities are first class. "Spaciousness, ventilation, wash racks, tie-outs, beautiful expo buildings for showing cattle. Separate rings for hogs, the whole thing is very well designed."
Nebraska State Fair Director Joseph McDermott said, "They're the most advanced fairgrounds in the country - spent $42 million."
Despite the positive reputation, filling the buildings can be tough for events outside the 11 day run of the fair.
McDermott said, "There are things in the works. I think we'll be making an announcement here in the next few weeks and we are putting a group together that's going to help promote the facilities here. Things are happening, it's taking a little time but I'm sure we'll be successful."
From the overhead power to paved floors, Wyoming fair manager James Goodrich agrees this fair is the blue ribbon best.
"This would be great," he said with a hearty laugh. "We'd take it anytime. We hope to get there at some point."
A common challenge for all these fairs is connecting urban audiences with animal agriculture, and something they say Nebraska has done well by making the livestock barns the focus of the fair.