Joint Ag Committee considers taking action to sustain Wyo State Fair
Douglas – On Oct. 18, the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee of the Wyoming Legislature gathered at the Wyoming State Fairgrounds with the purpose of discussing the potential for improvements to the Wyoming State Fair.
With a focus on youth development and maintaining an agriculture emphasis at the Wyoming State Fair, the Joint Ag Committee heard summaries of the fair and comments from many stakeholder.
The crux of much discussion during the day was based around how to achieve adequate funding for the fair.
A $400,000 budget cut during the 2017 Legislative Session was made, intensifying the impacts of funding shortages.
Sen. Larry Hicks, chairman of the Senate Ag Committee, commented, “This will be a slow process as we try to move State Fair towards being more financially stand-alone and solvent.”
He continued, “We can’t change everything at once, but we can make incremental changes.”
Wyoming Department of Agriculture Director Doug Miyamoto emphasized that there are two realms to the Wyoming State Fair – the fair event itself and the other 50 weeks of the year.
“We have a campus – including dorms, a cafeteria, multipurpose buildings, the equine center, livestock show centers and more – that represents opportunities to provide education and host events over the course of the year,” Miyamoto said.
Hicks added, “If we can expand the nature to take a global view and maximize the economic potential of the campus to be self-sufficient, we will see economic benefits to Douglas, Converse County and the state. We should maximize the use of the grounds to maximize benefit for the state and the community.”
Past-Sen. Jim Anderson, formerly of Glenrock, also suggested the creation of an endowment to be established by offering a match for all donations.
“The endowment concept is currently being used by the University of Wyoming, community colleges and others,” Anderson said. “I know there are folks who would be interested, if such a fund were available.”
Anderson also reflected that, 20 years ago, during his tenure in the Wyoming Legislature, they faced the same problems of funding and how to move forward with the event.
“These discussions feel like déjà vu,” he said. “State Fair was one of our prime problems at the time, along with education.”
“I see a very close relationship between what we do in agriculture and what the State Fair does,” Anderson continued. “This is about youth, their heritage, families and the future.”
“There is no question about whether State Fair is worthwhile. This really matters, and I hope it’s an issue the Legislature continues to work on,” he emphasized.
Preservation of culture
Anderson also related that, across the country today, monuments are being torn down and statues are being defaced.
“These actions are about people who would like to destroy our history, our heritage and our dignity,” he said. “I think we, in Wyoming, cherish our youth very much at the University of Wyoming, community colleges and in education.”
He added, “I think that value applies to what we are talking about with State Fair.”
“If we were to lose any of those things in regard to our heritage, we are in danger of losing our identity,” Anderson commented. “I’m pleased with the direction the committee has taken, and compared to the conversations 20 years ago, the Legislature is miles ahead.”
“If we don’t continue to fight to keep the West as it is, we’re going to lose it,” Anderson added. “To do that, we must educate our children and let them know the value of their heritage, their roots and their background. That’s why it is important to preserve the Wyoming State Fair.”
Anderson cautioned against being careful to make too many cuts or raise fees too high, or the Wyoming State Fair may suffer, as well.
“I think there’s a broader approach that has been part of this discussion,” Anderson said, referencing comments made by Sen. Curt Meier and Sen. Larry Hicks during the meeting. “There are 52 weeks in the year, and I personally think that the facilities need to be used during all of them.”
He advocated for involvement of outside groups, including the Wyoming Business Council and Wyoming Tourism Board, to develop strategies for drawing more groups to the Wyoming State Fairgrounds for their event.
“I think the committee ought to engage with the idea of how we can enhance and engage ourselves with regard to diversification and developing the business,” Anderson explained. “If we continue to do the same thing the same way, we’ll get the same outcome. The Wyoming State Fair is going to have to change its ways.”
As one step in moving forward to improve the Wyoming State Fair, a draft bill was introduced that would transition the State Fair Advisory Board to a State Fair Board, with direction to focus on improving and developing the Wyoming State Fair as a year-round venue to be used to its maximum potential.
The bill would require members of the State Fair Board to be appointed by the Governor, rather than by the members of the Wyoming Board of Agriculture.
Additionally, the bill would put the operations, maintenance and use of buildings and attached property under the purview of the Wyoming State Building Commission.
Extensive discussion about the bill, as well as a number of clarifying questions, were posed during several hours of debate at the end of the meeting. The bill was ultimately tabled, with direction to the chairmen of the committee to make amendments that would clarify questions and concerns from the public and the committee.
The committee will vote on whether to move the bill forward via an e-mail, electronic vote.
“I think the bill that was written is wise, and I think it’s the right direction to enhance management,” Anderson commented. “It’s a long way from the finish line, though. I hope the Legislature continues to work on the State Fair.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.