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State Fair of Texas

The Return of the State Fair of Texas Brings a Texas-sized $400 million in Economic Impact  

After a hiatus in 2020, the State Fair of Texas is aiming to be the largest event in America following the COVID-19 pandemic.
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The State Fair of Texas is officially returning in 2021, bringing back the festivity and the economic impact it has on the community, vendors, subcontractors, and more.

In 2019, the State Fair of Texas cultivated a record year reporting revenues close to $65 million with a cumulative attendance of over 2.5 million. However, in 2020 the long-standing Texas tradition was canceled.

When the fair officially announced its cancellation last year, the immediate future became blurred and significant financial losses were imminent. From the end of 2019 to the end of 2020, total assets fell from $90.6 million to $70.5 million, total revenues dropped from $64.7 million to $4.4 million, and net cash plummeted from $9.9 million down to -$18.67 million.

“We knew we were in for a tough ride,” Mitchell Glieber, President of the State Fair of Texas, said. “When you have a nonprofit organization whose major fundraiser of the year is condensed to a 24-day period, and you’re not able to run that event, that’s a tough year.”

Despite the downturn, the fair was still able to award over $1.2 million in college scholarships in 2020 and awarded $1 million so far this year. In addition, the fair financially supported 59 organizations in 2020, served over 70,000 people in the community, and continued to invest in local organizations to help feed South Dallas, an effort fueled by the conversion of the classic midway which transforms into a farm in the offseason that provides fresh produce for families. Fair Park also transitioned into a vaccination hub in order to combat the attack of COVID-19 distributing over half a million vaccines to locals.

Now that the pandemic is beginning to subside, optimism surrounding the 2021 state fair is sky high.

“I think that the State Fair of Texas is positioned, from a timing standpoint, to possibly be the biggest event in the country [post-COVID],” Glieber told D CEO.

One of the biggest challenges facing the fair, like most businesses post-COVID, is recovering financially.

Going into the 2021 season, the fair’s Chief Financial Officer Jaime Navarro, and team, readjusted budget scenarios six to eight times, but Navarro believes figures can creep close to 2019 levels.

“We are looking for our net income to be somewhere in the range of 8 to 12 percent in order to help bolster coming back [to attainable levels].” Navarro said. “We hope to be within $10 to $12 million of [2019’s] revenue number.”

From the Red River Shootout to front yard parking, the economic effects of the fair are extraordinary. A 2017 study conducted by the Economics Research Group at the University of North Texas found that the fair’s economic impact on Dallas is between $410.6 million and $499.9 million without factoring in the auto show.

When visitors travel from beyond DFW to enjoy the State Fair of Texas, money is spent on restaurants, lodging, transportation, shopping, and other local attractions outside the fair as well. For fairgoers, the money spent beyond the bounds of the fairgrounds is an estimated $120 per visitor. All out-of-state visitors are estimated to spend at least $120, with in-state visitors spending at least $84. Put in perspective, the economic impact from visitor spending is enough to create 1,532 full time equivalent jobs. The annual football game between the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma is estimated to bring about 200,000 people to the area, with actual game attendance between 90,000 and 100,000.

“When the fair does well our neighborhood does well,” Glieber said. “We have people who live in this area that make significant money parking people in their front yards. It’s something that goes overlooked sometimes, but the trickledown effect is huge.”

Other studies have said the economic impact is far lower. In 2016, a Baylor University report measured the economic impact at just $50 million. The study found that the fair’s attendance and economic impact numbers were unsupported, but Glieber dispute’s the study’s findings.

Another early challenge the fair is facing is the condition of the labor market. Labor and wage shortages are running rampant throughout the country as the economy tries to crawl out of the COVID-19 downturn. Currently, the fair is finding new ways to recruit seasonal employees at job fairs. But by fair season, the organization expects to be fully staffed by loyal employees, some who have worked over 65 years at Fair Park, with 2,500 seasonal employees, over 4,000 subcontractors and vendors, and 50 full-time staffers. Everyone will be needed, as there will be no capacity limits within the state fair this fall.

For seasonal employees, the State Fair bases starting wages on Dallas’ MIT living wage index as this year’s wage begins at $12.38/hour. For vendors and subcontractors, small businesses rely on the State Fair to carry their yearly revenue, and some even rely on the 24-day period as all yearly revenue.

State Fair staffers are planning a normal 24-day event and are expecting a high number for this year’s attendance.

“As long as nothing changes drastically, I could easily see anywhere in the range of around 2 million [attendees],” Navarro added.

“We are optimistic that we are going to be able to run a fairly normal fair, if not completely normal,” Glieber said.

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