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22 February, 2009 - State Fairs are in Jeopardy

There could be some new listings on the Endangered Species list.
There is no question the economic crisis is causing major challenges for governors and state legislatures across the nation, forcing them to take a look at long-standing events and institutions; seeing if there is a way they can save a dollar or two. One of the areas that could be in danger in many states . . . county and state fairs.

A headline in the Detroit News earlier this month certainly caught my attention. The headline read “State Fair in jeopardy”. The opening paragraph stated “Governor Jennifer Granholm wants to eliminate state funding for the 160-year-old Michigan State Fair. Her short-term reform plan would end all state financing of the Michigan State Fair in Detroit, the nation’s oldest, as well as the Upper Peninsula State Fair in 2010. The State Fair - - a showcase for Michigan’s $64-billion agricultural industry – is an agency of the Department of Management and Budget, and is held on state property. It’s supposed to pay for itself, but the state treasury has been covering shortfalls ranging from $50,000 to $1.3-million in recent years. Attendance has dropped 39% since 2000 and corporate support has also declined.” according to the story.

Those who have attended the State Fair for decades as well as current 4-H and FFA members are deeply upset with the possibility there will no longer be a Michigan State Fair. This problem, however, is not unique to Michigan. I am hearing from people in other states who are concerned about possible cut-backs in county and state fair funding that in many cases could lead to the closing of their fairs.

You know how I feel about county and state fairs. They are important to agriculture as a showcase and an opportunity to educate city fair-goers. They provide the opportunity for 4-H and FFA members to demonstrate their accomplishments in project work and compete for top honors in competition in the show ring.

If attendance and revenues are declining at your county or state fair, the Michigan story makes it very clear you will get little or no financial help from government. That puts the responsibility on our shoulders to generate new funds and develop new ideas to attract more people so we can keep county and state fairs off the Endangered Species list.

It is a wake-up call for us who want our kids and grand-kids to be able to enjoy fairs as we did when we were growing up. Times are challenging, but if we work together, I’m confident we can find ways to save and grow this important slice of our American rural heritage.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.