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County Fairs Continue To Have Great Economic Impact On Communities

By Staff | Dec 24, 2007

Mention the phrase “County Fair” and certain images come to mind – crowds of people watching youth exhibit their cattle, hogs, horses or sheep, young people presenting educational exhibits, showing off their handiwork in the kitchen, at the sewing machine or in the woodworking shop, or just the idea of a time for the county residents to come together. But when you peek under the surface of the county or regional fair, there is a much broader picture to be viewed – the economic impact of the event.

Currently in Iowa, there are 107 county and regional fairs in Iowa, with 100 of those events actually being “county” fairs. A half-dozen are community fairs or 4-H/FFA Achievement shows leaving the final show as the crown jewel, the Iowa State Fair.

“The primary focus of a county fair is to, first and foremost, serve as a showcase of the talents of the youth of community and county by providing a means of education, exhibit and competition of the various livestock and non-livestock projects that the youth are involved in” explained Tom Barnes, Executive Vice President of the Association of Iowa Fairs. “But, the society will also use the county fair to highlight the heritage of the community, as well as its ties to agriculture, industry and businesses that are the backbone of the community.”

Barnes notes that while the focus of the county fair is the youth, every fair’s economic impact is very vital to a community and in turn, the state of Iowa. “For about every community that hosts a fair, the fair week is the largest activity of their community. A Fair can draw visitors from a wide area, bringing much needed tourism dollars into the communities.”

As an example, the 2007 reports filed by members of the Association of Iowa Fairs show that total attendance at the 106 county and regional fairs was 2,402,445 people, which was an increase of two percent over 2006 attendance figures. The total economic impact from those 106 fairs amounted to $222,808,838. Not included in that figure are the local impact of sales of goods and services by local commercial exhibitors and businesses at the county fairs.

If you talk about fairs n terms of youth involvement, 20,832 4-H and FFA youth exhibited 77,081 livestock projects in fairs in 2007, while 187,328 youth entered 79,105 non-livestock projects. Premiums earned by the 4-H and FFA exhibitors for those projects totaled $511,713, which was actually down two and a half percent from 2006.

Even though the county or regional fair features 4-H and FFA livestock exhibitors and shows, open class exhibition opportunities are also an integral part of these events. In 2007, 2,994 people exhibited 7,310 head of livestock in open shows, a figure 12 percent lower than in 2006. In the culinary, flower, textile, craft and other related areas, 13,546 people participate by exhibiting 69,167 exhibits, which was an increase of seven and a half percent over 2006. A total of $257,402 in premiums was paid to open class competition exhibitors during the year.

Along with premium payouts, capital improvements to fairground facilities also impact local economies each year, and the Association of Iowa Fairs assists in these projects as well. In 2007, $1,590,000 was allocated by the Association to County and Regional Fairs, an average of $15,142 per fair. Along with that money, $3,928,293 was spent by local fairs on capital improvements for their facilities. That equate to a rate of $.2.94 of local money for every $1 of Association funding being spent for capital improvements to fair facilities.

In the past four years alone, capital improvements to fairgrounds have totaled $14,490,710. The total statewide economic impact from capital improvements alone has been $101,434,970. Combining the various factors of premiums paid out and capital expenditures, Iowa’s County and Regional Fairs contributed $27,498,501 to the statewide economic picture, including the original $1,590,000 allocation from the Association of Iowa Fairs.

The figures don’t lie – the financial and educational impact of Iowa’s County and Regional fairs is undeniable in our communities and counties. But, another less-known fact about these events is the role that volunteers play in the operations of the fairs and non-fair events. The secret of the success of Iowa’s County and Regional fairs is due to the dedication and sacrifice of countless volunteers who give of their time, expertise and support of our youth and educational programs.

“A Fair is a community coming together to provide their youth and their families with an event that highlights their community, which in turn has a significant economic impact on the community,” Barnes said. “Multiply this by the 106 County and Regional Fairs, and the State of Iowa benefits significantly from the success of its County Fairs.”