DOUGLAS — The shortened four-day Wyoming State Fair took a beating at the first WSF board meeting Oct. 18. It turns out, the new board members learned, that reducing the length of the fair didn’t lead to the expected cost savings and caused other problems.
“It saved some money, but it also diminished our revenue,” Wyoming State Fair Director James Goodrich said following the meeting.
By the end of the inaugural meeting last week, the Wyoming State Fair Board, which was created by the Legislature last winter to oversee the fair in place of direct management by the Department of Agriculture, voted to increase the number of days back to five. While that is still short of the unofficial eight days of years past, it is the same number of official fair days.
The condensed schedule also caused problems for kids who wanted to show more than one species of animal because there were overlaps in show times — one example was that people couldn’t show horses and sheep, they had to choose between the two, board members argued.
“Do I finish showing a champion of champions lamb, or do I finish up and get in a showmanship contest?” Northwest Quadrant Representative Joe Bridges told his fellow new board members.
Bridges said that his conversations with state fair attendees tended to all trend in the same direction.
“Not a single one said that they were happy with it,” he said. “Initially, everything that I heard was all negative, and whether the people that liked it were keeping quiet, you never know.”
The new board is mandated with generating revenue, which was not technically one of the charges for the old board, according to Department of Ag Director Doug Miyamoto, who made the decision to cut the fair to four days due to budget cuts made by the legislature a year earlier.
“I don’t want to beat a horse, but I’m going to try and put my point across a little bit,” Bridges said. “From a budgetary standpoint, I don’t think huge strides were made by shrinking it.”
Bridges reiterated that the savings were not offset by revenue.
“I’m having a hard time believing that this (keeping the four-day) is the way to go, when you’re telling me that you have to save money in janitorial and security and I look and we went up $10,000 in janitorial from the year before and only saved $15,000 in security,” Bridges charged, also noting that the campgrounds brought in thousands less than in previous years.
Vendors weren’t happy with the reduced schedule either, and many noted reduced earnings.
Goodrich confirmed that Bridges was reading the numbers correctly.
“You’re not wrong,” Goodrich said. “The out-of-pocket cost in areas was reduced, but the cost per day was higher … We did shoot ourselves in the foot to a certain extent in terms of revenue.”
That’s not to say the four-day fair didn’t have some positives, some board members explained, echoing comments made earlier in the year. The jam-packed schedule was exciting for many, who enjoyed the non-stop action. Some who made the trek to Douglas appreciated the reduced length. The shorter week also helped out some kids who had to start the school year or the fall athletic season at the same time.
Miyamoto said he felt the shift to four days was his only option.
“This time last year, our budget was extremely uncertain,” Miyamoto said. “I was uncertain as to whether we were going to be able to have a state fair at all.”
Miyamoto was more optimistic about this year’s fair, but not emphatically so.
“We can have one,” Miyamoto said, which drew a laugh from the board. “I know that this year; I didn’t know that last year. That’s a huge step.”
At one point, the board did an informal vote, a show of hands, to see who was in favor of retaining the four-day schedule. Only Miyamoto raised his hand.
The board then officially voted to tack a day onto the fair. This coming year the fair will go from Tuesday, Aug. 13, through Saturday, Aug. 17.
“It will allow less overlap of some important shows and events,” Goodrich said, noting that the additional day will help with the scheduling of grandstand events, which in turn should help vendors.
Overall, Goodrich said he thinks the change should help with attendance and revenue.