Be fair to the fair

After a disappointing year, the fair and the Expo should consider some changes

County officials are mulling the future of the Jackson County Fair after this year's event brought disappointing attendance but a bigger profit margin. After struggling unsuccessfully for some time to achieve complete financial independence from the county, perhaps it's time for fair officials to consider some major changes.

The Jackson County Fair Board will meet Thursday to consider the future of the annual extravaganza, still the most lucrative event on The Expo's calendar. Here, in no particular order, are some suggestions we think the board — and the county commissioners — ought to consider.

  • Move it. County fairs historically took place near the harvest, when farmers and ranchers could take time away from their fields to relax and celebrate — and the weather was milder. Jackson County's fair happens in mid-July, which often means brutal heat, thunderstorms or both. Attendance naturally suffers. Moving the to fair later in the summer might help.
  • Shorten it. The fair runs six days, from Tuesday through Sunday. Maybe starting on Wednesday or even Thursday could reduce costs. Maybe not. But it's worth considering.
  • Consolidate it. In Washington state, some counties have fairs, but many do not, and regional fairs have evolved over the years to offer bigger, longer events that attract visitors from a larger area.

The Western Washington State Fair, once known as the Puyallup Fair, which now calls itself the state fair, attracts more than a million visitors. The Central Washington State Fair in Yakima runs nine days and boasts an attendance of more than 300,000 — in a county with a population roughly comparable to Jackson County's.

Josephine County's fair has fallen on hard times, too. Maybe combining the two could help rescue both.

Ease up on the pressure. Jackson County commissioners have leaned on the Expo to become self-sustaining for some time. The operation has achieved that most years, but has needed a loan from the county at the end of each fiscal year to hire temporary staff and gear up for the fair, which takes place at the beginning of the fiscal year.

County officials have chafed at this arrangement, although the loans mostly have been paid back. The Expo does owe an outstanding loan of about $300,000.

We have never quite understood the county's reluctance to help the Expo stay in operation. Events there bring exhibitors and visitors from outside the area all year long, pumping money into the local economy. The fair itself supports agriculture and 4-H programs, providing an educational opportunity for local youths.

These changes may turn out to be unworkable, but they are worth exploring. The Expo has a lot to offer. Fair Board members and county commissioners should do whatever they can to keep it operating.

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