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Published September 22, 2011, 01:34 PM

SD State Fair's fortunes continue to improve

HURON, S.D. — Consistent jumps in attendance and spending at the South Dakota State Fair in recent years have brought it closer to reaching its organizers’ goal for the annual event to pay for itself and improved its long-term outlook, which was on shaky ground just a few years ago.

HURON, S.D. — Consistent jumps in attendance and spending at the South Dakota State Fair in recent years have brought it closer to reaching its organizers’ goal for the annual event to pay for itself and improved its long-term outlook, which was on shaky ground just a few years ago.

The 126th fair earlier this month in Huron saw both attendance and revenue increases. Nearly 200,000 people attended over the five days, up 8 percent from the previous year and nearly 27 percent from 2007.

“We were up anywhere from 5 to 12 percent (over the year) in our major revenue generators,” Fair Manager Jerome Hertel told the Argus Leader (http://bit.ly/qPSZwD ) for a story published Thursday. That includes gate receipts, camping revenue, sales, vendor rent and the carnival, he said.

Tax revenue from the fair also has surpassed last year's level of $121,000, with the revenue still being collected, state officials said. The event that once had been sharply scrutinized by legislators now is widely praised.

Now, “the biggest question is what would you do without a state fair?” said Sen. Shantel Krebs, R-Renner, chairwoman of the Senate Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee. “It's an investment that may cost a little money, but it pays off dividends when you see the young leaders in the state gaining from it.”

State funding for the fair has dropped from $900,000 in 2002 to $267,000 this year, one in which lawmakers grappled with a large budget shortfall.

“Our goal is always to work toward being self-sufficient,” Hertel said. “Whether we get there depends on how many people we can get through the gates.”

In 2004, then-state Agriculture Secretary Larry Gabriel announced a three-year plan to get the fair on solid footing. In 2006, the fair went from an eight-day midsummer format to a five-day format over the Labor Day weekend. It has recorded attendance increases every year since.

Hertel, who had been the events manager at the Sioux Empire Fair in Sioux Falls, took over as State Fair manager in 2008 and made a business plan to reduce expenses. He and Fair Commission Chairman Warren Lotsberg said other reasons for the turnaround in the fair's fortunes include a booming agriculture industry in the state and a run of good weather.

“Weather is three-quarters of the success,” Lotsberg said. “Last year was excellent. This year is even better.”

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