Expo board appointees press need for solvency

Pushing the Jackson County Expo into the black financially is a driving ambition for two new fair board members.

"That's the goal of this board — to be self-sufficient," said John Anhorn, 70, retired chairman of PremierWest Bank.

Jackson County commissioners recently appointed Anhorn and software entrepreneur Jim Teece to the fair board, replacing longtime board members Leigh Johnson and June Brock.

The Expo is supposed to be a self-sufficient enterprise overseen by Jackson County, but has relied on the county to supplement its budget for many years.

The board's goal to increase revenues has proved elusive with the struggling economy.

Anhorn said his interest in the fair dates back to his youth, when he was involved in 4-H.

He said the Expo grounds total 252 acres, but 200 of those acres aren't being fully utilized. He hopes to find a way to bring more commercial enterprises and other features on Expo grounds to help increase revenues.

"It'll be challenging coming up with ideas," he said.

Teece, 50, of Ashland, said he has volunteered at the fair since 1995 and has been the driving force behind the technology pavilion. Both of his children are involved in 4-H programs.

Teece said the Expo needs to redefine its mission the way so many other businesses have been forced to do in recent years.

He said the fair represents something unique in this community and should continue to celebrate its agriculture.

As cities grow ever larger, rural communities need to find a way to build successful agricultural events, he said.

"This is the one single unified event where everyone can come together and celebrate as a county," Teece said.

He said the fair board has changed markedly over the past few years, and he wants to applaud the previous work done while looking ahead to the future.

"The old guard is gone," he said.

But finding a solution to the Expo's revenue problems will be a challenge, he said.

The Expo's financial troubles accelerated about five years ago, when it had seven full-time workers and revenues totaled $2.1 million. It cut back to just three full-time staff last year as revenues declined. This year, the Expo predicts a budget of $1.7 million.

Expenses have run even with revenues over the past two years, putting the Expo in a financial bind at the beginning of the new fiscal year in July, when it runs out of operating reserves.

The Expo relies on a temporary loan from Jackson County to pay the bills at the end of the fiscal year, which coincides with the fair.

Expo Director Dave Koellermeier estimates the Expo will require about $160,000 from the county in July.

Koellermeier said he hopes new attractions at the fair and increased attendance at the Harvest Fair and rodeo will help the bottom line.

The Rogue Valley Family Fun Center is an example of one lease arrangement with the Expo that helps with its cash flow.

"We just need a couple more like that," Koellermeier said.

While he's still operating with three full-time employees, Koellermeier said the Friends of the Fair Foundation has committed to funding a new position that will help write grants and look for other revenue sources.

Leigh Johnson said 18 years is long enough to serve on a board, though he plans to stay on with the Friends of the Fair Foundation.

"I think it's time," he said. "You need fresh blood on that board."

Johnson said that when the economy fully rebounds, he expects the Expo's revenue picture to improve as well.

The Expo is one of the only public facilities of its kind between Salem and Sacramento, Johnson said.

"It is one of the most valuable assets that Jackson County has," he said.

June Brock, who has been on the fair board for 15 years, said she wants the Expo to succeed and hopes new personalities on the board will come up with new ideas to increase revenues.

"If we had any good ideas, we would have used them," she said. "I hope they are coming in with fresh eyes and looking at this with a different perspective. I hope they have some better ideas than we had."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email dmann@mailtribune.com.


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