By KAREN KEITH
Tulsa County Commissioner
The author is County Commissioner for Tulsa County, District 2. She is also chair of the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority aka Tulsa Fair Board for 2011.
This year’s Tulsa State Fair was the largest, and certainly one of the most successful in the history of Tulsa County. Many people see the entertainment value of the fair, which is certainly important, but it’s equally important to consider the social and economic impact that the Tulsa State Fair makes on our region.
Every year, I spend a lot of time at the fair, and this year was no different. While it is easy to see the most popular attractions at the fair simply by walking down the midway, or walking through a barn, some people don’t see some of the special populations we serve. They don’t see the social impact that happens at the fair. There are dozens of examples of these events every year, but I want to talk about two of them.
You may not know, but the Junior Livestock Auction is a big deal at the fair. Kids from around the state and the multi-state region bring animals to show at the fair. After rounds of competition, the owners are awarded based on the merits and characteristics of their animal. The Junior Livestock Auction is then held for the owners to display and sell their animals.
This year, about $500,000 was raised in the auction, with the grand champion animals selling for thousands of dollars each. In fact, the grand champion steer brought a record $40,000 this year. This money translates to about half a million dollars in scholarship money for these young men and women.
Another event that serves a unique and very important population is the Golden Age Celebration. This event celebrates some of the most respectable people in our region. We invite couples in who have been married for at least 50 years and then provide them with breakfast and a really fun program. I remember being in awe of a couple I met who have been married for 65 years. My friend Karen Larsen was kind enough to emcee our program and it was so much fun. This event just keeps getting bigger every year.
Economic impact is another part of the Tulsa State Fair that many don’t consider. The economics of the Tulsa State Fair are pretty complicated, and while we won’t know final profitability numbers until January 2012, we do know that revenue was up in every category and we had an increase in attendance. We had 1,123,000 visitors to the fair this year. While that is a modest increase from last year, in each revenue category from concessions to rides to parking, the 2011 Tulsa State Fair performed even better than the record-breaking 2010 Tulsa State Fair.
Thousands of people from vendors to those showing livestock to cleaning crews converge on Tulsa to help make the Tulsa State Fair happen. While these people work round the clock during the fair, they also live here for a couple weeks. The hardware and department stores near Expo Square get an uptick in business, and so do the area hotels and other retailers.
One of my favorite stories from this year’s fair came from my visit with the owners of the McKinney’s food service operation. While talking to Mr. McKinney, he went on and on about his wife’s love for Utica Square. He said he spends a considerable amount of the money he makes at our fair on his wife visiting the stores at Utica Square.
Really, that was just one small example, but it’s a telling story of the community-wide economic impact the fair makes.
The staff and volunteers of the Tulsa State Fair produce one of the top fairs in the country. As you can see, our community benefits tremendously from the social and economic impact of the Tulsa State Fair. When you attend the 2012 Tulsa State Fair, I’d urge you to look at a list of all the events that happen and try to see something you’ve never seen before.
Check out www.tulsastatefair.com for information leading up to next year’s fair. And when you come out to have “Herds of Fun” with us next year, remember the significance of the impact the Tulsa State Fair makes on your community.