Peggy Besch, State Fair Manager, was the guest speaker at the last Beadle County Democratic Forum. Her PowerPoint presentation was very informative and entertaining. According to Besch, “We are more than just a fair.”
The State Fair Board’s vision is that the State Fair Park will be a premier, year-round facility and the first choice to host agricultural and equestrian events.
Besch gave a little background information about the Fair Park explaining that it encompasses 190 acres and includes more than 100 buildings. There are 1,200 campsites that held 2,000 campers during the State Fair. She also shared with the audience that there are nine full-time employees, 10 seasonals workers, and 375 staff during the Fair.
“Our success comes with creating ‘experiences’ and ‘memories,’“ Besch said. “Our target audience is families with children between the ages of 5 and 12 years.”
Besch described some of the recent improvements, with the biggest one being the opening of the DEX: Dakota Events CompleX. And coming right behind is the Raise the Shed campaign to build the new sheep barn. The Sheep Shed will be a 40,000 square foot multi-purpose facility which will include a 1,320 square foot education center. It will be able to accommodate 1,000 head of sheep.
Some goals for the future include creating thematic entrances to the park, increasing gate efficiencies to support increased attendance, and installing ornamental fencing. Other goals include establishing a combined clock tower and information booth and the installation of a wayfinding system.
“Many schools no longer include Ag in the curriculum,” said Besch. “That has led to a disconnect between food origins and consumers. We have a fundamental responsibility to educate people about agriculture.”
Besch then asked, “So what makes a successful fair?” And answered it with a series of photos from the 2023 Fair highlighting several key areas.
• It is the number of youth learning at the fair through 4-H, FFA and school programs with more than 9,000 4-H livestock and static exhibits, more than 900 FFA entries, and nearly 6,000 education entries. There were 25 schools with more than 700 youth and teachers who participated in the South Dakota’s Largest Classroom and 44 libraries and nearly 4,000 kids participated in the Read & Win Program.
• It is the 300 commercial exhibitors, concessionaires, and vendors who showcased at the Fair.
• It is the 1,600 competitive exhibitors entering more than 9,000 exhibits and earning $95,000 in premiums.
• It is the Fairgoer spending on goods, beverages, specialty concessions and carnival rides, which this year totaled more than $2.7 million with a sales tax revenue over $222,000.
• And it is the attendance, which in 2023 was 178,246 people.
Besch also gave updates on some new events in 2023, such as the Turn Trash to Treasure contest where people turned trash cans into works of art. The Professional Floriculture Contest that had florists creating masterpieces live and a live tomato judging event, both in the Horticulture Building.
The Backyard Project south of the Horticulture Building is a work in progress, Besch explained. “It includes activities that engage the senses in an interactive educational nature setting that allows families to decompress, relax, and unwind.”
It is also where a mural artist paints a mural each day of the fair.
Besch concluded her presentation by inviting everyone to the 2024 State Fair Aug. 29-Sept. 2.