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  • Two Fairs; One Manager: Illinois Hopes Synergies will Turnaround Ailing Events
    5/22/2015
    Illinois has two state fairs a week apart -the Illinois State Fair, which runs August 13th - 23rd  and the Du Quoin State Fair runs August 28th - September 7th, and the fair manager slot for both events had been vacant since January, after a new governor took office and fired both fair managers. For five months,  interested parties held their breath, waiting to find out who will lead the two major fairs in the Land of Lincoln. 

    Last week, the Illinois Department of Agriculture made a surprising announcement.

    The two fairs - only three months away - will be headed by one person. Patrick Buchen, who was Executive Director of the Illinois state Fair from 1988-1989, will return as Fair Manager for both the Illinois State Fair, which is in the state capital of Springfield, and the Du Quoin State Fair, which is located in the titular town about a three hour drive south. 

    Cost Savings
    While both fairs are long established annual events in the state, each have struggled in recent years. Having one manager for two fairs as a cost-saving measure is the official main reason for this unusual approach to fair management. 

    "I am confident that Patrick Buchen can effectively manage both state fair operations," said Philip Nelson, Director, Illinois Department of Agriculture. "In this day and age of shared sacrifice, we at the Illinois Department of Agriculture are tightening our belts where we can, but at the same time preserve the traditions that Illinois residents enjoy at both state fairs." 

    Buche's long career experience combines farming and event planning. Born and raised on a farm in Fulton County - his family holds an "Illinois Centennial Farm" designation dating back to 1863 - and his ties to the Illinois State Fair go back to his youth, where he logged countless hours in the livestock barns, and was a member of 4-H where he worked with sheep, hogs, and cattle. 

    Buchen served as Executive Director of the Indiana State Fair 88-89, was president of President of HSI Show Productions, an event production company and most recently was president of Adjuvantexpo, an exposition and trade show production company. In addition, he is certified in Exposition Management from the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, and the past chairman for the International Association for Exhibition Management Foundation. According to a Department of Agriculture press release: "Buchen has a track record of boosting revenues while trimming unproductive expenditures."

    "I love agriculture and the fair business, so becoming manager of the state fairs in Illinois is a dream come true," said Buchen "As an event professional I have dealt with all facets of show management. I truly believe to meet the demands of the event industry, creativity is paramount in order to present something new and fresh year after year while still delivering familiarity."  

    Political Impartiality
    Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, beat the Democrat incumbent, Pat Quinn last year and upon taking office in January, fired many department heads, including the two fair managers, Amy Bliefnick of the Illinois State Fair, and Shannon Woodworth of the Du Quoin State Fair. The cost-cutting policies began with the Buchen appointment, who makes a reported $100,000 - $120,000 annually. Bliefnick earned $90,400 annually and Woodworth earned $71,000.

    In addition to the innovation of one fair manager for two fairs, Buchen said another first is that the appointment was approved by but not made by the Governor of the state, but by the Ag director. "Historically, my position has been someone appointed by governor, and they may or may not have been political appointees," said Buchen. "My appointment was made impartially, so I can focus on the business of both fairs." 

    "Patrick has both the agriculture experience and the fair experience that will really help him to showcase Illinois, specifically the state's rich agricultural roots," said Nelson.

    In fact, Buchen claims to have "no political ties," and feels that his qualifications in events and agriculture makes him uniquely suited to take on two fairs. "I have fair experience, and exposition experience, so I have a full understanding of the sales and sponsorship that is needed, and the types of marketing both fairs will benefit from." 

    Creating Synergies
    Carnival Warehouse spoke with Buchen only a few days after the announcement of his taking over the dual helms of both events. There were still "some "i"s to dot and "t" s to cross," he said, and insisted he has no immediate agenda or plans to announce any major changes. "Both fairs have great staffs, and I am getting to know them and the fairs. Most of the fairs have already been planned for this year, so I really will be learning as much as I can for the next few weeks." 

    In the longer term - after both fairs - Buchen expects to both consolidate some operational and management tasks and create marketing synergies between the two events.

    "We want to maintain autonomy, but we will be able to coordinate some marketing and PR, and consolidate some sales, and eventually have one team that will do both fairs," he said. "But it might also make sense to maintain two different sales teams."

    Booking entertainment might be another function that can be consolidated, but "that will probably work better for the ground acts," he said. "They have a circuit they play and often both fairs are on that same."

    Co-Booking headline entertainment is more pragmatic - although the distance between them means the two fairs are located in two different markets, nullifying typical radius clauses in contracts - "whether one big act will play both fairs seems to make sense, depending on the routing, but it also depends on the act," he said. "Whether the same act plays both fairs is one issue, but the booking might be able to be handled from one office."

    The synergistic relationship and accompanying sales benefits will be most apparent in sponsorships. The sponsor segment that will be initially targeted by Buchen's interconnected approach to sales is the agri-business community. Agriculture is the largest industry in Illinois and it's those business who have a vested interest in the success of both fairs. "There are synergies when it comes to marketing and sponsorships that we have by combining two fairs," he said. "There are several agri-business companies who are germane to both fairs and we can price sponsorships so it makes sense economically to be in both fairs."

    Financial Struggles  
    The agricultural industry in Illinois may be a booming multi-billion dollar industry, but the fairs have lagged behind its success. Buchen is under pressure to turn around the two state fairs under a new fiscally conservative administration in a state where the economic recovery has yet to fully take hold. "Our goal is to become self-sufficient and not use any tax dollars whatsoever," said Buchen. 

    Last Summer, a report form from the Illinois Auditor General's Office indicated the Springfield and Du Quoin fairs lost money in each of the prior two fiscal years. According to a May 4th, 2014 article in the State Journal Register: "Losses at the Springfield fair totaled $3.5 million in fiscal 2013 and a little more than $3.3 million in fiscal 2012, according to the report, while the Du Quoin fair lost nearly $595,000 in fiscal 2013 and more than $630,000 in fiscal 2012."

    The Illinois State Fair attracted 847,000 attendees in 2014, while 340,000 went to the Du Quoin fair last summer. Buchen hopes to turn around the downward attendance spiral of both fairs - in 2013, the Illinois State Fair attracted 961,000 and Du Quoin 365,000. 

    In addition, increasing revenue and overcoming budget shortfalls is not just about the state fair. The Illinois State Fair finds itself in a position similar to other states - the fairs themselves have established and growing followings - it's the rest of the year where the empty fairgrounds drain state coffers. "We pretty much break even at least with both fairs," said Buchen. "But it's the other 346 days that can be made more profitable, and we can market both locations to some organizations."

    Buchen is currently assessing reports on the facilities and infrastructure at both fairgrounds, which range from a new exposition building to aging facilities that Buchen describes as needing "a lot of TLC (Tender Loving Care)." 

    Capital improvements will likely take up much of his inaugural year at the dual-helm. "There are lot of ideas on the table. We are seeking private public programs," said Buchen. "There are also a lot of special interests groups who have a stake in both fairgrounds."

    He added, "we are exploring a few legislative things to help with the capital improvements, but we also have a big emphasis on obtaining private funds as well."  
     
    According to statement released by the Department of Agriculture: "The Department is confident in the management and agricultural experience that Mr. Buchen brings to the table. He is currently evaluating both fairs and working to make resources available to provide agricultural experiences, education, and entertainment available for everyone at an affordable price. Mr. Buchen will be operating under the mission statement of "The state fairs are here to enhance agriculture through education and enlightenment in a safe and fun environment"." 

  • Carnival Nightmare: Will New H-2B Ruling Rule Out Foreign Workers?
    5/20/2015
    On April 29th, the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued an Interim Final Rule (IFR) that enabled the H-2B program - the worker program that allows foreign workers to temporarily work in the United States - to resume processing Visa applications. This IFR however, not only reinstates previous restrictions on employers, but many in the fair industry see the new regulation as being more severe than previous rulings. They fear it will result in such a drastic increase in labor costs that companies not driven out of business will have to drastically curtail operations.

    This recent chapter in what has become an ongoing saga began in December when a federal judge, M. Casey Rodgers, ruled in the case of Perez vs. Perez, that Congress had given the authority over the H-2B program to DHS, not DOL. The DOL appealed that ruling, but in March, Judge Rodgers blocked Labor from imposing new rules for H-2B visas, which suspended the program, putting employers and visa applications in a state of limbo, although reportedly most carnival companies and concessionaires had already secured sufficient foreign workers for the 2015 fair season. The judge soon granted a stay on her decision, allowing the H-2B program to continue processing visa applications, which was due to expire by May 15. 


    New Rules

    According to a DOL spokesperson - who responded to Carnival Warehouse queries via email, "After the Florida court's decision, the DOL was required to stop processing applications for temporary labor certifications, and was only able to resume the processing of such employer applications after receiving a temporary stay from the court, which is set to expire on May 15.  Since the March 4 decision, the Departments [DHS & DOL] have been working expeditiously to issue a rule. The 2015 IFR jointly issued by both Departments brings certainty, stability, and continuity to the program."

    For the Mobile Amusement Industry, DOL's IFR cure is far worse than the disease. The H-2B program allows for 66,000 workers to temporarily work in the United States - approximately 4,000-5,000 H-2B workers are in the Fair industry, mainly employed by carnival companies and concessionaires. The IFR imposes wage requirements and other regulations that threaten the ability of the core segments of the fair industry to function. 

    Through lobbying efforts and in the courtroom, the Mobile Amusement Industry has been mostly successful in fighting the most arduous H-2B measures, but the new IFR shows how fragile those gains are. The industry is still trying to understand both the complexities of the new rules and the extent of their impact while simultaneously devising a strategy of where to take the fight next. 
    "We had several conference calls this week with industry attorneys and experts in the H-2B program," said Robert Johnson, President, Outdoor Amusement Business Association. "There is no question, from the OABA board and other stakeholders, that this new IFR program and wage rules, as it is currently drafted, is going to kill the H-2B program and how it relates to the Mobile Amusement Industry ."
     
    Protection or Threat

    The DOL insists the new rules are in the interest of U.S. workers. "The 2015 IFR strengthens U.S. worker protections, ensuring that workers have a fair shot at finding and applying for jobs for which employers are seeking H-2B workers, and that U.S. workers who are doing essentially the same jobs as H-2B workers have substantially the same rights and benefits as those workers," a DOL spokesperson told Carnival Warehouse (via email). "The new regulations also strengthen worker protections with respect to wages, working conditions, and benefits that must be offered to H-2B and U.S. workers alike."

    But the mobile amusement industry argues the IFR will have the opposite effect by destroying the job security of both domestic and foreign workers. "The real problem is that in the program, there are so many things layered in, it is death by a thousand cuts," said Wayne Pierce, attorney for the OABA.

    "We have found that carnival and concessions have learned to operate effectively with the guest worker program," said Gregg Hartley of Cloakroom Advisors, the lobbyist for the OABA. "They can get good, consistent workers through the guest-worker visa program, and good domestic workers. It allows for the kind of workforce that the H-2B program was designed for. This new rule will hurt that work force, especially the smaller companies and ride providers." 

    "The DOL is creating a crisis," said Johnson. "What they don't understand is that we can't hire Americans to do all of these jobs, because we can't get enough Americans to support the large midway operations. It is insurmountable task to find enough Americans who are willing to take these jobs, who can work eight to 10 months year." 

    James K. Judkins, President of the JKJ Workforce Agency, who recruits and aids in the processing of more than 3,000 guest workers annually, mainly for carnival companies, concessionaires and circuses, calls the new rules set forth in the IFR, "unworkable, too expensive and burdensome for the mobile entertainment industry." 

    Judkins points out that the IFR, "adversely affects U.S. workers," because if all the slots of a carnival or concessionaire workforce aren't filled, the company cannot operate. You need the foreign guest workers because there is no way to sustain a workforce without them, and U.S. workers who are part of the workforce will lose their jobs." 

    The new ruling is "forcing the government to shape their program around the seasonal amusement industry, and it is impossible. What the government doesn't understand is that they want round holes, and we're a square peg," he said.


    Bunkhouse Credit
     
    The most noticeable and immediate impact of the IFR will be a dramatic increase in the cost of labor for the fair industry. One particular cost factor it increases - and one that exemplifies issues specific to the fair industry that IFR opponents claim the regulations now ignore - is the elimination of what is commonly referred to as the bunkhouse credit. Unlike some of the other industries participating in the H-2B visa program, the Mobile Amusement Industry provides housing and transportation to its employees, the cost of which was taken into account when determining wages under the old regulations. The IFR eliminates the consideration, and employers are not liable for all costs. 

    "Wages are no longer a function of the total cost of labor with the new rule," said Pierce. "In what other industry, are employers not allowed to claim housing or food as a credit?"

    "DOL's longstanding position is that deductions or costs incurred for facilities that are primarily for the benefit or convenience of the employer will not be recognized as reasonable and therefore may not be charged to the worker," said the DOL spokesperson. "Thus, housing that is provided by employers with a need for a mobile workforce, such as those in the carnival or forestry industries where workers are in an area for a short period of time, need to be available for work immediately, and may not be able to procure temporary housing easily, is primarily for the employer's benefit and convenience and cannot be charged to the workers."

    This new rule disrupts existing salary patterns, and the Mobile Amusement Industry feels that all workers - regardless of industry - require housing and usually pay out of pocket for their accommodations; they argue that the cost of providing housing should be taken into account when determining wages for Mobile Amusement Industry employees. "Why should your salary be the same as someone who has to pay for their own housing if the employer provides with you housing and transportation," said Judkins. "The new rule says we must provide workers the same wage as somebody who doesn't provide housing. They are adding additional burdens to our industry." 

    A May 1st statement by the H-2B Workforce Coalition - an advocacy group for all industries affected by the IFR - stated: "According to DOL and DHS estimates, the new rules will cost about $2.5 billion over 10 years or $250 million per year. If you divide this cost among the program's approximately 4,600 certified program users, the average annual cost per employer is about $54,000 per year. Many small businesses cannot simply absorb these costs and cannot often pass them along to their customers without losing significant business."

    Artificial Raises

    Peirce considers that figure low for the fair industry, estimating that ultimately the cost could grow to more than $100,000 per worker. "The impact on the fair industry will be in the millions of dollars, artificially raising the wages of individual worker until companies are driven out of business," said Pierce.

    The increase in labor costs will also be due to determining wages - for example, companies that travel through several states, there's a question as to which state's minimum wage will be used as the starting wage. In addition, the IFR wage methodology revision also eliminates paying workers based on their skill level - which was called a four-tiered wage system, instead establishing - by the use of wage surveys and other measures - the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) mean wage, in effect giving all workers a raise, whether merited or not. " We are still reviewing the financial impact of the IFR on the Mobile Amusement Industry 's H-2B visa program," said Johnson. "We don't believe the government's OES wage determinations are correct."

    In addition to the IFR's raising labor costs, other regulations affect recruitment procedures - employers must demonstrate they adequately attempted to recruit domestic workers before seeking foreign employees - as well as a range of their issues that affect carnival companies have concessionaires. "They have changed the protections we used to have, and made the system worse," said Judkins. "The Visa processing system is twice as difficult under the new rules."

    Industry Response

    What will the Mobile Amusement Industry do next? A week or so after such a complicated and wide-reaching ruling, it is unsurprising many are still reeling. But there are three immediate strategies being developed. The issuing of the IFR includes a public comment period, which closes June 29th, where industry members can make their voices heard. Then there's the two "L's" - litigation and legislation. 

    "Litigation and the public comment period are the most immediate actions we will be taking," said Pierce. In terms of the former, he foresees revisiting the issue of whether the DOL has overstepped its authority with the new IFR. "Congress said the H-2B is governed by the DHS, not the DOL, which is how a federal judged ruled in March." 

    But with the IFR still being processed by the myriad of affected Mobile Amusement Industry companies and organizations in the mobile, comprehensive litigation strategiesare undergoing development. Pierce said "I will be working almost exclusively on this for the foreseeable future" 

    "Litigation has basically slowed the DOL," said Johnson. "We have held them at bay in the courts. We're also grateful for legislators, who were able by to stop the DOL from advancing those rules by adding language to appropriations bill." 

    Legislative Outlook
    While a new H-2 Bill seems unlikely in the short term, "Congress can use the emergency rule process to extend the period of conflict," said Hartley. This legislative maneuver, which has been used in the past, adds language to Appropriations Bill that "restricts what the DOL can do with certain aspects of their rule, such as the setting of different levels of wages." 

    Hartley estimates that the earliest this legislative option can take place "More than likely after October 1st." 

    On the positive side, there has been bipartisan support for H-2B reform, but "our arguments are better received by Republicans," said Hartley.

    With Republican victories in the recent mid-term election that returned congress to the GOP, "we have new chairmen on the committees, and there is a view that there has been over-reaching by a number of agencies in a way that is anti-business."  

    In April, before the IFR issuance, 36 Members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, sent Jeh Johnson, DHS secretary, a letter requesting that the "new regulations for the H-2B seasonal guest worker program be user-friendly for the thousands of businesses that rely on the program and protect American workers," according to a press release from the House Judiciary Committee. After the IFR, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) issued this statement: "The Obama Administration had the opportunity to issue user-friendly regulations for the thousands of American employers who use the H-2B program, but it knowingly failed to do so. The new regulations issued by the Obama Administration are overly burdensome for the small and seasonal businesses that play by the rules and use this guest worker program to hire a legal workforce. By keeping the Department of Labor's heavy hand in the process, employers will face more red tape and higher costs when using the program. The House Judiciary Committee is closely examining this issue and the impact of the Administration's new regulations."


    Immigration Complication

    The debate over worker rights, wages and foreign workers taking away American jobs is only one political maze that will the Mobile Amusement Industry must navigate. The other potential hazard is if the H-2B debates becomes entangled in the conflicts over immigration policy, a sure bet to be a contentious issue in next year's presidential race.

    Hartley said lobbying efforts "have made good, incremental progress on this issue on both sides of the aisles," and is confident that those efforts can avoid getting pulled into the immigration debate. "This is not an immigration issue, but a worker-visa and labor issue, which most politicians realize," he said. "We have actually worked well on this issue with both Democrats and Republicans." 

    Unfortunately, just as in the wake of 9-11 when national security concerns led to the creation of the program that included putting it under the co-auspices of the then new DHS, the current controversies over immigration reform linger in the background of the current H-2B discussions. "It always will be confused with immigration, but these workers aren't immigrants, they do a job nobody else wants and go home," said Judkins. 

    According to Johnson, midway providers and concessionaires have been working "with a sense of insecurity" since the Federal Court ruled in December to vacate the H-2B program. The IFR ruling may not have brought a desired closure - instead it has opened up a new battle front - but at least it revealed what the industry is now up against. "There is a sense that this jeopardizes the fair industry, the cost of these programs is too much to bear," he said, but also noting that industry association, including the International Association of Fairs & Expositions, the Florida Federation of Fairs, and the National Independent Concessionaires Association have all offered support. "They have all been in contact with me and offering to write letters and lobby on our behalf. They understand that this new ruling affects all fairs and the entire industry."


    Storm Front

    "We've seen this storm coming, and we've been fighting parts of it over the years," said Judkins. "This new set of rules has come through and we are going to have to use all of our tools."

    Judkins credited the OABA for doing a good job in conveying the issue to the Mobile Amusement Industry, but said that more must be done both within the industry and by industry members and interested stake holders. "The fairs have their own agenda, and the carnival companies needs to be educating the fairs about what is going on with this issue, because it does affect them." 

    Judkins supports litigation and active participation in the Public Comment period, although he adds "that has got to be done, but it is waste of time in the long run. The most importantthing for the fair industry is to be working with their members of congress, explaining to them who they are and that this issue is about saving American jobs. Fighting in the court can slow things down, but it will only be solved with legislation."

    He added, "Focus on the main issue. Carnival companies are properly treating workers, people are happy to come back season after season. The main issue is that these companies cannot get enough help to operate because of these new rules."

    Legislation, litigation - even devising effective comments for the Public Comment period - will take time, but the reason to begin as soon as possible is not just due to the massive effort that will be involved. The IFR threat to carnival companies and concessionaires may be more immediate than many assume. While it is true that the majority of these companies have secured a stable workforce for 2015, Pierce warned that there is a potential impact on some companies this year. If a company's visa program is being audited - a common occurrence - right now, "it appears to me that there is room for making alleged violations on the basis of the new regulation regarding a current audit."

  • Windy City Amusements adds Owens Wacky Shack & Wisdom Sizzler
    5/18/2015
    Tony Salerno has a lot of admiration for Ross Owen, the longtime manufacturer of fun houses, dark rides and mirror mazes.

    Salerno, owner of Windy City Amusements, recently bought a Wacky Shack, Owen Trailers' newest fun house that sets up on a 48-foot trailer. It was delivered last week to the shows winter quarters. Owen traveled from California, where his company is situated, to Aurora, Ill., the western Chicago suburb where Windy City keeps its winter quarters.

    Owen took the time to help show officials put the fun house together for the first time, something not lost on the Salerno family.

    "He put a lot of extras into that piece," Salerno said. "It was a great buy. He's one of the few manufacturers that still do a quality job. I really like the way he took care of us. He did everything he could to help us and I want people to know that."

    "When a problem happens, Ross answers the phone and stays on the line until the issue is taken care of.  I was really impressed by his support and would like to see other manufacturers stand behind their product as well as Owens does," said Salerno.  "Ross told me what whatever I needed, he would take care of for me" Salerno echoed. 

    The fun house is a two story model, complete with a Denny's Electronics light package for extra flash.  It is the first Owen piece owned by the show.

    Other than the Wacky Shack, the show bought a used Sizzler for the second unit that Wisdom Manufacturing is currently refurbishing and it should be delivered sometime in June, Salerno said.  The Sizzler is being retrofited with a LED package from Wisdom / RideParts.com.  Separately, the show sold a Tilt-a-Whirl and a Tornado. Both of those rides ran their course and weren't generating enough revenue to keep them on the road, according to Salerno.

    The show has been busy retrofitting existing equipment with LED light packages and vinyl wraps.  Over the spring, they added a LED package to their Pharaoh's Fury from Denny's Electronics and are in the process of finalizing vinyl wraps on a Funnel Cake trailer for the second unit and the Raiders on the first unit.

    In addition, Windy City plans to hold an auction in October after the season is over to get rid of spare ride parts, a few generators, any excess rides, and some game and food trailers. Windy City could also potentially do some consignment deals with other owners of carnival equipment as part of the auction, Salerno said. He's still looking for a company to produce the auction. The date is still to be determined but it will be at the show's winter quarters, he said.

    The process of liquidation falls in line with Windy City's effort to make do with what it has outside of the few new attractions. Last November, the carnival sold about 10 rides to a carnival in Mexico through a broker. Those pieces made up the old "phantom fourth" unit, the term Salerno used to describe the operation that popped up on various occasions in Greater Chicago. All told, the show now owns about 50 rides, down from 75 a few years ago.

    "We've laid low ... making sure the bills are paid," Salerno said. "We don't want to be like some shows that have overextended themselves."

    Windy City, whose corporate office is in St. Charles, Ill., started the season with one unit in operation in Geneva, Ill. It's one of the "sneak spots" Chicago-based shows refer to in a market where competition is fierce and carnivals are hesitant to disclose their locations. The irony is that most shows know where everybody is playing anyway, but just the same, Salerno preferred not to identify the spot other than to say he works with the city to book the date.

    The second unit followed suit in the western suburbs and the third unit hit the road last week in South Elgin.

    "We try to fly in the shadows," Salerno joked.

    Overall, the carnival's help situation is good as it enters the third year of using international labor. For years, Windy City stood behind using domestic labor but its thinking has changed and the Salerno family embraces the strong work ethic their Mexican nationals bring to the operation. For 2015, the show has 41 of those individuals working among the three units.

    "We tried to hold out and keep Americans working but all they want is a hand out thanks to our Government," Salerno said. "They're not hungry [for work]. Life [on welfare] is too much of a gift. They get a free phone, housing and food. They're happy being [poor] and that's how the politicians want to keep it. We'll wait until after the [2016 presidential] election to see if things change."

    Salerno mentioned that the show picked up two new festivals in Cicero and Worth, Ill. The carnival also booked a new Labor Day spot in the city of Chicago.
    Otherwise, many dates are longstanding, including events in Palatine and Geneva. Windy City has been playing both holiday festivals for about 30 years.

    Windy City raised its wristband prices to $25 last year and Salerno doesn't bat an eye when he says the show runs those specials twice a day. Does it burn the help out? No, he says, because the rides have to turn anyways regardless if they are using tickets or armbands. "It's not like [they're all] running a ground-mounted Wheel," Salerno said.

    This year marks the 39th year for the carnival. Tony Salerno Sr., 86, is retired. His wife Ruth, is 76 and still works the office. Tony's two brothers, Mark and Mike, both run units. The youngest of Tony's three daughters, Samantha, works part-time for the show as a concessions manager. She lives at home right now and is saving money to buy a house, her father said.  Mark's youngest son, Adam, works for the second unit as a manager.

    Speaking of real estate, Tony's father still has his sense of humor intact. As the Wacky Shack took shape at winter quarters, Tony Sr. took one look at the fun house and told his son he thought it looked like an expensive piece of property. "Thank God there's no property tax," he cracked.


  • Walker County Fair and Rodeo:  Meeting grand challenges
    5/15/2015
    They say that everything is grander in Texas, sometimes even the challenges.  Walker County has certainly had its share of those.  The population of county-seat Huntsville includes large numbers of residents (23.9% per the 2010 census) who are "below the poverty line."
     
    Wikipedia also explains that a 2007 community report "stated that over 50% of the Huntsville Independent School District (HISD) students are classified as 'economically disadvantaged,'"

    and "over 18% of the students do not graduate from high school."
     
    Although these percentages have been influenced by the fact that Huntsville is home to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (e.g. "the prison population is included in the city's population"), it nevertheless indicates the grand challenges that Walker County has been facing.
     
    Fair Solutions
     
    Rusty Davis, President of the Walker County Fair and Rodeo, is not one to sit back and let the chips fall where they may. He was there back in 1953 when naysayers were warning that a new fair would surely fail.  He and that "new fair" have been going strong ever since.
     
    Davis recalls, "About seven of us started this fair on the tailgate of a pickup with an idea. We knew that it didn't have to fail just because the older one had.  The time was then right to try again.  People saw the need and really got behind it.  It was a new and different era."
     
    "Agriculture was my own major at Sam Houston State University.  I competed in the rodeo for many years.  My wife rode horses and ran barrels.  My kids competed also."
     
    "We're all basically country folks.  There's a lot of cattle raised here, a lot of timber, and a lot of hay crop.  Some hogs, too."
     
    Fast forward to 2015, and Davis now reports:  We had a real good year.  Our gross receipts were higher than they've ever been.  We grossed about a million.
     
    That million may actually be seven million in terms of community impact.  Davis explained, "They say that a dollar spent goes through the county seven times.  If that's the truth, then that's a $7 million impact on our small agricultural community." 
     
    The secret to such grand success?  Davis said, "Our community turned out in force to support the kids in our livestock sales.  These were people who own their own businesses, individuals, not a bunch of corporations.  These were the people of our own community coming out to support one another in a huge way."
     
    Davis added, "Huntsville is the headquarters of the Texas prison system, and we have a couple of wardens that send us quite a few convicts throughout the year to help us mow, clean up the grounds, etc."
     
    "Sheriff Clint R. McRae came up through the county fair, showing steers as a young boy.  He's now done a tremendous job as County Sheriff."
     
    Davis continued," We give a lot of scholarships, a whole lot.  Those kids get a premium price for their animals, and some of that money is used for their schooling, or for next year's livestock or non-livestock project."
     
    "We help kids from all over Walker County.  We have two other incorporated cities besides Huntsville, New Waverly to the south and Riverside to the east."  
     
    "When you see kids today in broken homes, faced with the things they're faced with, if you can turn a child in the right direction, then it's been worth it all.  What we do is very wholesome, and  very family oriented.  It keeps kids out of trouble and their minds occupied."
     
    2015 Highlights
     
    Davis is quick to give credit where credit is due.  He stated, "We have an outstanding board of directors, along with numerous committee chairs and volunteer workers.  We recently hired a fair manager, Don Burton, and we have a couple of other part-time paid employees."  
     
    "All the rest are volunteers, with in excess of 70 committees this year.  We're one of about three county fairs in Texas that are non-subsidized.  This was our 37thfair.  We had a huge debt load in the beginning, and have now been debt free as of 2008."
     
    Davis spoke enthusiastically about this year's competitions.  "Out PRCA Rodeo was absolutely full both nights, Friday and Saturday.  Our Wednesday night barrel race was so crowded that you could hardly get in the parking lot.  We had about 130 racers on a Wednesday night!"
     
    "The Tilt-a-Whirl and Ferris Wheel are always big favorites.  So are the funnel cakes, pizza and fresh-squeezed lemonade.  Some of our concessionaires have been with us 30-plus years, so that says a lot.  This year we also touched on beer sales and bought a three-day permit."
     
    "One very special event in 2015 was our Easter Sunrise Service.  We held it right here at the fairgrounds, and people were also able to attend their home churches afterwards.  We have a lot  of cowboy churches in our area, and sometimes before an event one of the ministers might get
    a group together for a short while."
     
    "We also had a Kindergarten Day, a Senior Citizens Day, plus a Kids' Rodeo for those with special needs.  We put these kids on horses, and you should see the smiles on their faces when they get to rope a dummy."
     
    "We also have an Academic Rodeo for town kids that don't have an animal. These children get to write essays or do something academic in order to compete.  We also have art, photography, baking, canning, and all sorts of supervised projects."
     
    Davis concluded:  "If somebody wants to be involved in our county fair, we will be sure that there is something for them to do."  
     
    This kind of "can do" attitude has made the Walker County Fair and Rodeo a rousing success, not only in meeting grand challenges, but also in providing wholesome and quality entertainment year after year.
     
    The administration is already looking ahead to 2016.  Davis happily predicted, "With growth comes change, and I'm all for change in the right direction."

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2014 TOP 50 FAIRS
1. Texas State Fair - Dallas, TX
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3. Minnesota State Fair - St. Paul, MN
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The Industry Buzz
Hickey Culpepper passes
It is with great regret to announce the passing of long time industry veteran Hickey Culpepper. 

Culpepper, Milton "Hickey", 83, of Tampa, Florida passed away on May 11, 2015.  
Hickey was born on August 26, 1931 in Wright City, Oklahoma to the late Tom Culpepper and Flora Yardley-Culpepper. Hickey followed his life's passion into the carnival business where he owned and operated an outdoor amusement business. He was a lifetime member of the Showmen's League of America, The Greater Tampa Showmen's Association, and the International Independent Showmen's Association. He will be remembered for his upbeat positive attitude and his love for "His Club". Hickey is survived by his beloved wife, Bonnie Woodard Culpepper; daughter, Patricia Yhnatko; brother, Charles Culpepper; granddaughters Marlo and Meagan Yhnatko.; and many extended family and friends. He is preceded in death by his parents, Tom and Flora Culpepper, grandmother Burns; and brothers, Dudley, Hubert, and Tommy Culpepper.

Friends are invited to attend a memorial service at 11:00 A.M., on Thursday, May 14, 2015, at A Life Tribute Funeral Care- Tampa Chapel, 4040 Henderson Blvd, in Tampa, FL. 

In lieu of flowers memorial donations can be made to the COPD Foundation at, 3300 Ponce de Leon Blvd, Miami, FL, 33134, or www.copdfoundation.org, so others can breathe better tomorrow. Condolences can be shared with the family at www.alifetribute.com In lieu of flowers memorial donations can be made to the COPD Foundation at, 3300 Ponce de Leon Blvd, Miami, FL, 33134, or www.copdfoundation.org, so others can breathe better tomorrow. 

  Posted by Matt Cook on 5/12/2015
Battech Enterprises acquires ORI, LLC to service Eyerly rides
Oregon based Battech Enterprises, LLC. announced the purchase of ORI, LLC (formerly Oregon Rides) and will now be the sole provider of parts and service for Eyerly rides.  Battech will be selling the parts under a new company, Replacement Parts Resource, LLC.  According to a press release from Battech, former ORI owner, Tod Sherbourne will be working for the new company in the parts department.  All fabrication and manufacturing will take place at the company's headquarters in Salem, Oregon.  Battech Enterprises, LLC. currently produces the Cliff Hanger, Zero Gravity, Hog Rally motorcycle ride, a variety of Super Slides, and other pieces formerly produced by Hrubetz/Kilinski/Dartron.
  Posted by Matt Cook on 5/8/2015
Showmens League seeking new executive director
The Showmen's League of America is seeking a new executive director.

Joe Burum, the former director, has resigned after six years to pursue other business opportunities, according to Paul Kasin, the group's president.  Burum's final day on the job was April 10. 

For the SLA, a nonprofit organization based in Chicago, qualified candidates must have strong management skills with the ability to market the organization at industry trade shows in Gibsonton, Fla., Las Vegas and the annual IAAPA convention. "We're trying to find new ways to raise money and create member benefits," Kasin said. "It's important for the future of the club." 

Carnival industry experience is a plus but not required for the position. The job application indicates flexibility is key trait for the position. It reads,  "Must be ... equally at home, both at a black-tie party and 'jackpotting' on the midway,"  A college education is preferred and the salary is commensurate with experience, Kasin said.

All inquiries should be directed to to the Showmen's League home office at 1023 W. Fulton Market, Chicago, Ill. 60607, or email Paul Kasin at Kasin3435@comcast.net.


  Posted by Don Muret on 5/4/2015
Danny Roark Passes
It is with a heavy heart that I that I write this email. Danny Roark (better known as J.R. to his friends and family) passed Saturday at his home in Covington, VA. J.R. has spent  the last 25 + years with us here at Cole Shows. He was a great asset to our company and more  importantly, he was a great friend. Services will be held Tuesday at Arritts funeral home in Covington, VA.

  Posted by Cole Shows on 5/3/2015
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
In our efforts to chronicle the history of our industry, we could think of no better way to further this endeavor than to interview industry pioneers and preserve their videos for posterity.

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