Wyoming State Fair continues on positive trajectory with new infusion of funds from Legislature
Douglas – Feb. 28 brought a gathering of Wyoming State Fair stakeholders to the Wyoming State Fairgrounds for a community meeting, which provided updates on the annual event and looked at challenges that continue into the future.
Of note, Wyoming State Fair Board President Joe Rankin commented, “Over the last few years, our budget has been cut severely. We were fortunate to get some of that money back last year and this year both.”
Sen. Brian Boner of Douglas noted the Wyoming Legislature pledged additional support to the Wyoming State Fair this year.
“As another option for funding, last year we started the State Fair Endowment,” Boner said. “After we took about a 30 percent budget cut several years ago, we decided it would be a good idea to have a cushion and an additional fund set aside to stabilize the Wyoming State Fair budget.”
The interest from the endowment would help fund fair activities.
Currently, one percent of revenues from the fair are deposited into the account, as well as 75 percent of the interest.
“As it stands right now, only 25 percent of the interest from the endowment goes to the state fair,” Boner said, noting changes made be made to provide the Wyoming State Fair Board more flexibility moving forward.
“The good news is, in the session that ended on Feb. 28, we added $1.1 million to the Wyoming State Fair Endowment from our supplemental budget bill and an additional $2 million from the Pari-Mutuel Commission,” Boner emphasized. “We had an issue with excess revenue from the Pari-Mutuel Commission account, so we transferred $2 million of that to the Wyoming State Fair Endowment.”
At a five percent return, the endowment – which sits between $3.2 and $3.3 million – will now provide roughly $150,000 for the annual Wyoming State Fair.
“We’ll continue to assess other methods to remove the uncertainty of the budget,” Boner said.
The past and present
Rankin also noted the last several years have been an anomaly for the fair. In 2018, the Wyoming State Fair made changes to compensate for the 2018 Great American Eclipse, which was on Sunday following the event.
“We let some of our exhibitors go home early in anticipation of a lot of traffic,” he said. “As a result, our Saturday numbers at fair were terrible, which is highly unusual.”
In 2018, the Wyoming State Fair Board also held 17 meetings from around the state seeking input on the Wyoming State Fair.
“A lot of comments came from parents of 4-H and FFA members, who come for the whole week. They were concerned about the amount of time they spend at the fair and how much it costs,” Rankin added. “As a result, we cut a day off, thinking that would also save us some money.”
He continued, “It really didn’t save us much money.”
Wyoming State Fair Director James Goodrich added, “A big component of shortening the 2018 fair was an effort to save money in security, temporary labor, janitorial, etc. We did achieve some cost savings with that, which was helpful.”
“The trap we got into by reducing the number of days, we also reduced our opportunities for income,” he continued. “Our income from the shorter fair was less. We knew that was going to happen.”
Impact of change
While it wasn’t a surprise to Wyoming State Fair staff that revenue was down, Goodrich added major costs weren’t reduced enough to cover reduced revenues.
While 4-H and FFA families indicated they would be more willing to participate in a shorter fair, participation numbers did not reflect the number of comments received.
Rankin also noted that 4-H and FFA members were also forced to make choices as to what species they wanted to show, since show schedules often overlapped.
At the same time, some vendors did not return to Wyoming State Fair as a result of the shorter number of days.
“We were not able to fill the number of inside vendor spaces this year because of the shortened fair,” Goodrich commented. “We saved some money by shortening the fair last year, but we also lost some revenues.”
“It was super busy for four days,” Rankin said. “This year, with our new board, we decided to add a day back on.”
The schedule for the Wyoming State Fair will start on Aug. 9 with the Ft. Fetterman Remount Horse Sale, followed by what Rankin dubbed the “Ranch Weekend.” The ranch rodeo, stock dog events, Dutch oven cookoff, sheep wagon contest and more will be held that weekend.
On Aug. 12, exhibits will begin arriving at the fairgrounds. Livestock shows will start on Aug. 13 and will continue through Aug. 17.
“I think our schedule is going to work well,” Goodrich said. “There are still some things we won’t be able to fit in the five-day schedule, but I think the intent of the fair is preserved over the five days.”
A look forward
The upcoming Wyoming State Fair will be the first event under the direction of the Wyoming State Fair Board, and Boner said, “We’ll assess how that goes, and if there are any ideas for legislative fixes, we are all ears.”
“During the interim, I hope we will also assess where we are with the Wyoming State Fair and get some feedback from stakeholders,” he added. “We want to give more flexibility to the board, so they truly have control over the event. We need to give the people in charge of the Wyoming State Fair the authority to be in charge.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.