The fair industry and its major, most high-profile partner, the Mobile Amusement Industry, seems reenergized and ready to confront new challenges as it prepares for the International Independent Showmen's Foundation (IISF) Trade Show. One of the premier industry events, the IISA trade show runs February 9 - February 13, although the annual Super Bowl/Trade Show Kick-Off Party takes place February 7, followed by the Annual Big Hearted Jerry's Memorial Golf Tournament at noon the following day.
Other announced events include an Exhibitor Cocktail Party, the Jamboree dinner, and the IISA Annual Banquet & Ball, featuring the Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Presentation ceremonies. The IISA installation of new officers takes place takes place after the show.
Several major events are scheduled, including the first ever Mobile Industry Summit, H-2B 101, an intensive workshop about coping with the new foreign worker visa regulations, and the return of SafeServe, the food safety certification program, which has become mandatory for food workers at many fairs.
As the first major industry event of the year, the Gibtown trade-show is often an opportunity for the fair industry to takes its own pulse before a new season beings. Compared to some recent years, the industry seems fit for action. "I think there were a lot of very good fairs last year" said Teresa Rimes, Trade Show Secretary for the IISA. "People are geared up for the trade show and looking toward the future."
The IISA trade show is benefiting from a fair industry coming off a strong year and many industry observers credit a slow but significant economic recovery as contributing factor to this upswing. One sign is that there will be more new companies at this event than in 2015. About 16 new companies are taking booths this year. While there's always an attrition of midway related companies - with new companies or at least, new to exhibiting at Gibtown - coming aboard - and of course some others dropping out - this year the influx of new vendors is higher than in recent memory, and the dropout rate, much lower.
"There's always some fall offs, but not that many this year," said Rimes. "We are getting more new companies than we did last year."
These newer additions are what Rimes said are Inside Exhibitors. At the IISA trade show, Outside Exhibitors are generally ride manufacturers as well as larger equipment suppliers, including concession stands, generators and bunkhouses, who need the open space to exhibit their product lines. Inside Exhibitors are vendors of all the other products and/or services that midway, fairs and other fair industry members require.
Outdoor exhibitors are holding steady in terms of number. "Many are taking less space and bringing fewer rides," said Rimes. "This has been the trend for a several years, because of the internet. People can see the products on line, so companies save the costs of transporting. They have a smaller footprint. They do come here to make the deals."
The influx of new exhibitors are of the Inside variety, "We have five new ATM companies, some new technology companies, manufacturers of wraps and signs. There are new insurance companies. Last year, we had two companies and this year we have six. There are more companies interested in fairs and mobile amusement companies."
Mobile Amusement Industry Summit
The IISA Trade Show will also be the stage for the fair industry's first ever Mobile Amusement Industry Summit, the brain child of the Outdoor Amusement Business Association (OABA). The idea behind this meeting is to bring representatives from sectors of the fair industry together to discuss issues, explore directions and find common ground.
This ambitious and ground breaking meeting will be hosted and led by Tom Gaylin, President of Rosedale Attractions and Incoming Chairman-Elect of the OABA as well as the other OABA leaders.
Representatives from the International Association of Fairs & Expositions (IAFE), National Independent Concessionaire Association, IISF and other industry organizations have confirmed their attendance and participation in the meeting, according to Gaylin.
He added that the OABA is actively soliciting regional and state associations join together in this history industry summit. "We don't even know of all the groups, but there are 30 plus associations, that are local or state-wide," said Gaylin. "Many are fraternal and lot of them are not tied up in advocacy or politics and lobbying, but we want to reach out to everybody. We want to hear from the grassroots level We want to learn about their challenges so we can be aware of them too."
Gaylin hopes the meeting will be a give-and-take forum, allowing the national group to inform the smaller organizations and affiliated groups about he national issues - especially the current status of H-2B visa situation - and then to hear feedback about other, more-regional issues looming in the year ahead. "My idea is to unify and unite the industry, get everybody rowing in the same direction," he said.
The Summit - which is slotted for two hours, starting at 11:00 AM, Friday, February 12 - will follow an open-ended format. The meeting will begin with opening remarks from Gaylin and other OABA representatives, followed by remarks by representatives from the invited organizations.
The core of the summit comes next, a Talk-Back session with other attendees, where questions, comments and a dialogue will be encouraged. "We want to communicate what the OABA has accomplished," said Gaylin. "But once we get the ball rolling, we hope to confront issues, make everyone feel comfortable. The OABA is open to criticism, and we want everyone to express their ideas and opinion. We want to hear grievances, and we want to mend any fences."
While the eventual hope is to form more effective coalitions between the sometimes disparate industry organizations, forming a new association is not the intention of the Summit. "Primarily, we want to open the lines of communication, enhance the fair industry," he explained. "The industry is changing, and with the H-2B visa lobbying, the Interstate Highway use taxes and issues like the N.J. inspection crisis and the tax-free status of fairs, our business today is more complicated. We are meeting with congressional leaders and other politicians. The Mobile Amusement Industry has a seat at the table. Our only motive is to unite the industry so we can be better advocates for everyone in the industry."
Gaylin added that he hopes the summit will have "a positive outcome so we can move forward. We want the summit to be constructive for the entire industry."
The guest worker program certainly will be discussed at the summit, but it be center stage for most of February 10th (Wednesday), beginning with H-2B 101, a new seminar designed and presented by James K. Judkins, president of JKJ Workforce Agency.
The interactive workshop features what Judkins describes as the "basics" from how to fill out and file the paperwork to what is a prevailing wage and how the new rules will impact the guest worker program. "I want to break down each step and explain each step because a lot has changed with the new rules," said Judkins.
Not all of the new rules will negatively impact the mobile amusement companies and other H-2B worker employers in the fair industry this year. In December of 2016, President Obama signed an Appropriations bill passed by Congress that included some positive provisions regarding the H-2B program, including not counting returning workers to be included in the 66,000-person cap on foreign workers. "This means more visas to be available," said Judkins. "That's probably the biggest change, but there are other changes too."
He added, "this seminar will stay with the nuts-and-bolts of the program. We will answer any questions people have. H-2B 101 will be useful for all employers, but I also expect to get a lot of office staff from the Mobile Amusement companies, including the independent rider operators but also petting zoos, side shows, concessionaires, the whole ball of wax."
Judkins conducts similar workshops on H-2B and other guest worker issues ever year, but because of new changes to the program, industry members are clamoring for a workshop that returns to square one.
"It is time to go back to basics with H-2B. There are companies who are considering H-2B and companies who have hired staff who need to be trained in the system. H-2B 101 will be perfect them."
Immediately following H-2B, Judkins and members of the OABA will hold an "H-2B Update & PAC (Political Action Committee) Fundraiser," that focuses on the lobbying efforts by the OABA to ensure the program continues in a direction favorable to the fair industry.
The 2016 IISF Trade Show also features the return of the ServSafe certification seminar, where participants receive their Professional Manager Food Safety Certification, which is through the National Restaurant Association. This workshop and certification class was not offered last year, but returns this year on February 11th (Thursday, 11:00AM-3:30PM). The class will again be conducted by Dominic Cianciola, Director & Training Specialist, Last Call Training and for the first time, the actual certificate will be available online, meaning that there will be a log-in and password code for everyone who completes the course, enabling them to print out a certificate as needed.
While this may seem like a minor improvement over the need to always carry a physical certificate with you, the technology advancement underscores the growing necessity of food handlers and concessionaires to be certified in safe food preparation practices. "State inspectors are looking for the certification. More communities and fair boards nationwide are requiring certification," said Cianciola.
In addition, food safety has become more complex as the nation's eating habits and fair cuisine becomes more diverse. "Food allergy training has become more important to certification, there are more procedures to follow," he said.
The popularly of vegetarian, vegan and vegan-friendly at fairs has created area of preparation issues," said Cianciola. "With veggies, there's a high risk of neural viruses contamination. Farmers and others are using reclaimed water, which can be easily contaminated, and bacteria infection is a major issue."
Many of the new certification requests come from the Food Truck trend. Food Trucks have come popular eating options through the U.S., and many fairs are featuring Food Truck Days or encouraging these Mobile Food Vending Units to be among the food vendors at the fair. Ensuring that safe food practices are upheld in these cramped ketches is something both the vendor and the fair must be aware of. "Cross contamination of food is a higher risk in Mobile Food Vending Units," said Cianciola. "There is more stringent enforcement of food trucks as they've become popular at fairs and festivals. There are multiple municipalities involved with outdoor events, and they can have different regulations. The inspectors and planners want to see that certification."
Cianciola added there's a "very high demand for this class" at the IISA Trade Show. He said he will be available during most trade show hours of the convention and if there's enough interest, an additional class might be added.
2016 IISF Trade Show Coverage