- Associated Press - Thursday, August 14, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - The Nebraska State Fair is now closer to the center of the state, but its new location also makes it a potential draw for the fair in Iowa, where organizers are working to attract people from Omaha - a city that sits halfway between both events.

Fair organizers for the two states dispute the suggestion they’re competing, noting the attractions are scheduled at different times of the month and offer concerts and activities that are unique to them. The Nebraska fair in Grand Island starts Aug. 22; Iowa’s kicked off last week and runs through Sunday in Des Moines.

Still, when Nebraska’s fair moved four years ago, Iowa fair organizers saw a chance to appeal to the Omaha media market - an area that includes the city, its suburbs and parts of eastern Nebraska and western Iowa. The first Nebraska State Fair in Grand Island was held in 2010, after more than a century in Lincoln.

“When the Nebraska State Fair left Lincoln, there certainly was a void in that market,” said Lori Chappell, the Iowa State Fair’s marketing director. “We saw it as an opportunity to reach out to that market, just two hours away. If we can fill that void, we’re happy to do so.”

Iowa fair organizers have touted their event in Omaha through highway billboards and newspaper, radio and Web advertisements, Chappell said.

About 15 percent of the Iowa fair’s visitors came from the Omaha media market in 2009, when organizers last conducted a major marketing survey. Chappell said the fair increased its marketing in 2010, and is conducting another survey this year to see if the numbers from the Omaha area have grown.

Nebraska fair organizers say they’re also working to draw more people from Omaha and the eastern part of the state. Fair surveys have shown that once people visit the new fair in Grand Island, they’re glad that they did, said marketing director Shaun Schleif.

Last year, about 60 percent of Nebraska fairgoers came from Grand Island and the surrounding area. About 11 percent came from Lincoln, and 6 percent were from Omaha. Schleif said organizers are focused on maintaining the fair’s satisfaction rating, in which more than 90 percent of visitors said they would “likely” or “very likely” recommend the fair to a friend.

“Our goal is to make the entire state feel welcome,” Schleif said. “The Nebraska State Fair is a reflection of our state, no matter if you’re from a rural area or an urban area.”

Attendance at both fairs dropped slightly last year in the midst of hot, humid weather. Iowa reported slightly more than 1 million fairgoers, while Nebraska’s fair drew nearly 335,000.

Fair organizers generally are more concerned about weather, which has a greater impact on turnout, than competition from other events, said Marla Calico, chief operating officer of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions. Calico, a former fair manager in Missouri, said big-name concerts and a fair’s proximity to a major city also can influence turnout.

“There’s hardly any place in America where there isn’t a state, regional or county fair happening nearby between mid-July and mid-September,” Calico said. “Some of them are going to be in the same media market. It’s a fact of life.”

The Nebraska and Iowa fairs both feature carnival rides, games and animal exhibits. Visitors to the Iowa fair can gawk at the world-famous butter cow, or indulge in fried and sugary concoctions at more than 200 food stands. The Nebraska fair will offer elephant rides, cow milking, a pig show and the fair’s first-ever marathon - a Boston Marathon qualifying course.

Attendance by itself isn’t the best measure of a fair’s success, Calico said. Sometimes, she said, fairs will see a revenue boost from rides, games and food sales in years when turnout declined.

Visitors are willing to travel to more than one fair if the events offer a good mix of activities, displays and concerts, Calico said.

“It’s more a question of whether it was a quality experience,” she said.



Nebraska State Fair: https://www.statefair.org/

Iowa State Fair: https://www.iowastatefair.org/

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