A time-honored tradition celebrates its 25th anniversary this year as visitors flock to the annual Georgia National Fair – and they have no trouble finding something to do. From midway rides to concerts, and nightly fireworks to all types of food, the 11-day fair offers entertainment for people of all ages.
“Agriculture is Georgia’s No. 1 industry by far, so we exist in support of that,” says Randy Moore, the fair’s executive director. “We also exist to support economic development.”
Because of the anniversary, that is particularly true for the 2014 edition, held in early October at the Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter in Perry. Using the theme “Georgia Grown,” the 25th Georgia National Fair continues the trend of impressive growth since the first one was held in 1990.
“In the beginning, the state provided about 80 percent of the funding [for the fair], and the program generated 20 percent of its own,” Moore says. “And currently the program has generated 90 percent of its own revenue, and the state was funding it at 10 percent. That’s been the trend over the past 25 years.”
The Center of Success
The most recent numbers, for fiscal year 2014, show that the 2013 fair generated nearly $5.3 million in revenue, with more than $2.3 million in gate receipts. Additional events held at the GNFA throughout the year brought the total to a record $9,030,600. When the Georgia National Fair began in 1990, it drew a crowd of 270,000 people. Today, it attracts, on average, more than 440,000 visitors, and attendance has steadily increased over the past two years, helping bring tourism dollars to Georgia.
The Georgia Agricultural Exposition Authority, or GAEA , is an agency at the GN FA working to promote the state’s agriculture, agribusiness and youth at the National Fair, plus other events throughout the year. The agency administers the yearly event.
“The strength of this program is the diverse mission that it was given and the continuity we’ve had on the Authority through our board members,” Moore says of the GAEA . “We have had very good support from our governors and legislators, recognizing the importance of agriculture in this state.”
The fair, of course, is the main event. Through its livestock and horse shows and agriculture-related competitive exhibits, the fair shines a bright light on Georgia’s farmers, producers and youth from groups such as 4-H and FFA.
One of its newest features is the Georgia-grown building, a joint project of the Georgia National Fair and the Georgia Department of Agriculture, which debuted during the 2013 fair. It features space specifically for Georgia-grown products, manufacturing and agribusiness.
“The idea was to have a building for Georgia producers to come in and display their products and educate the fair-going public on the diversity of agribusiness in the state,” Moore says. “We thought the repurposing of that building was a resounding success and is only going to grow each year.”
In addition to the fair, the 1,100-acre GN FA holds many other events including the Georgia National Rodeo and the Georgia National Junior Livestock Show, both in February. The facility is also designed for meetings and conferences, and hosts concerts, RV rallies, trade shows, sporting events and dog shows.
To give the place a facelift of sorts, the Georgia state legislature voted to allocate $3 million for upgrades in fiscal 2015. Improvements will include resurfacing parking lots and roads, buying new equipment, painting, redeveloping the north gate entrance, updating bathrooms in Reaves Arena, paving and making heating, ventilation and air conditioning improvements in three buildings.
“During the course of the year we feel every county in the state of Georgia is represented here at some point. We feel that we serve and are responsible to the entire state, Moore says. “We’re very proud this program has that kind of reach.”