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Numbers, spending up at fair

March 08, 2002|By JENNIFER RALTON-SMITH
  • Imperial Valley Expo CEO Bill Blair talks about this year's fair. CUAUHTEMOC BELTRAN PHOTO
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Staff Writer

IMPERIAL — Against a backdrop of cotton candy and corn dog stands, excited children and fairground music, the man who has orchestrated Imperial Valley's Mid-Winter Fair and Fiesta for the past four years pauses for a moment Wednesday morning and smiles a big smile.

"We're on the road to potentially reaching 100,000 this year!"

Those are the words of Imperial Valley Expo Chief Executive Officer Bill Blair and he's talking attendance figures at this year's fair.

He went on to comment "I wasn't sure what was going to happen this year with attendance because of the economy and the events of Sept. 11."

As of Tuesday evening, the number of people coming to the fair was 42,617, according to figures supplied by Blair.

Walking through the fairgrounds as successive waves of school children began to arrive for a day at the fair Wednesday, Blair continued to address the subject of the "soft" economy and its effect on fair attendance.

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"I wasn't sure how that would impact us … but people are coming."

Blair said he had noticed an "interesting trend" on opening day in that there were fewer people through the gate than in previous years but they were spending more money.

"That really surprised me big time," he said.

Blair said when the fair gates close Sunday, he would be comparing this year's totals to the figures for the 2000 fair because last year's fair lost a day due to heavy rain.

Asked what sort of feedback he was getting from fair-goers six days into the fair, he was quick to point out he had "not heard one negative comment."

"What I'm hearing from people is that they've noticed how clean the facility is and how friendly the employees are. And people have stopped me to say how impressed they've been with our Ag Country-USA exhibit."

Saying that he had been successful in recent years securing grant money to address the issue of a "tired infrastructure" at the fairgrounds, Blair observed there had not been much "preventative maintenance" done before he came on board as CEO.

"We've been able to get different funding sources for capital improvement. These improvements mean that people are coming back to use the facility now."

If you happened to be at the fair Wednesday through Sunday, you may run into one of Blair's staff conducting an exit poll.

According to Blair, the last exit poll was taken 10 years ago and looking at early results, Blair said that one question and its results, was of particular significance.

"The question ‘How would you rank your personal safety at the fair' is really important to me and the results so far are significant."

Sixty-nine percent of fair-goers polled answered "excellent" to the question and 22 percent responded with an answer of "above expectation."

Walking toward the Preble Building and nodding to various security staff along the way, he addressed the issue of security.

"There were years when people would not come to the fair because there was a perception that it was not safe. But now we've got a real good relationship with the Sheriff's Office and they've got a good presence here. The Probation Department is here at crucial hours looking for known gang members."

Not willing to divulge further details of security measures, Blair did agree with the suggestion that there was "a lot more behind the scenes security" than the public was aware of.

"People are feeling very safe and families are coming back."

Warming to the theme of families and fairs, Blair stressed the importance of the fair for the people of the Imperial Valley.

"It's a way for the community to come together, to showcase their talents and their products. I tell people that our fair is very important for a number of reasons as well as being economically important to the surrounding areas."

Spreading his hands wide in a gesturing encompassing family groups walking by, he said "The fair is important because it gives the residents of the Valley the opportunity to come to a place and be with their family, their friends, celebrate the fact of community and be entertained in a safe and clean environment — it's showing pride in our community."

>> Staff Writer Jennifer Ralton-Smith can be reached at 337-3442 or dingo87@earthlink.net

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