Every year from the middle of October to early November, people flock to the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix for rides, fried food, concerts, and contests — and help to stimulate Arizona’s economy. In turn, the fair is doing all it can this year to make the State Fair an affordable venture, knowing many Arizonans are struggling to make ends meet.
The fairgrounds at 19th Avenue and McDowell Road is alive with bright lights, the sounds of laughter, musical acts, and a huge Ferris wheel that can be seen for miles from the freeway and from surrounding neighborhoods. It takes significant funds and manpower to operate each year, but the fair has been a tradition in Arizona for years and has an impact on the state’s economy as well as the nearby communities.
The Arizona State Fair is a self-sustaining state agency. While it is a part of the state government, it does not take money from the general fund.
Arizona State Fair marketing director Kristi Walsh said last year the fair attracted more than 1 million visitors and brought in more than $8 million in gross revenue. It costs around $7 million to operate. All extra revenue goes to fair operations and staffing for the future, and the rest goes into the state’s general fund.
The fair atmosphere appeals to a wide demographic. Old-time traditions like livestock and quilt-making competitions sit side by side with rides and the concert stage that features Bret Michaels, Snoop Dogg and Big Time Rush.
This year, the fair features an educational exhibit about the human body called “Our Body: The Universe Within.” The exhibit is sponsored by Maryvale and Phoenix Baptist hospitals and features actual human specimens to give real-life lessons to the attendees.
Walsh said the wide variety of activities spans multiple generations. “It’s the blending of the old traditional stuff with the new cutting edge things that appeal to the younger demographic these days,” Walsh said.
As people’s incomes have been hurt by the slowing economy, the fair has tried to make it so the public gets more bang for their buck. There are discounts featured on Groupon and at the State Fair’s website, including special days and opportunities for free admission and free parking for fairgoers.
“We made a concerted effort to get together with all of our partners and discount as much as we possibly could, to maintain our operations but also to allow more guests to come in at a discounted rate,” Walsh said, “Really, folks paying full price aren’t doing their homework.”
The fair also partnered with various community groups around the Valley to collect items in exchange for admission to the fair in a program called We Care Wednesdays. Donations vary from week to week from food donations to St. Mary’s Food Bank to clothing donations for St. Vincent de Paul.
On Oct. 19, fairgoers could receive free admission by bringing three cans of food to be donated for St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix. Jerry Brown, communications specialist for the food bank, said the event was one of the larger food collections of the year and drew in more than 30,000 pounds of food.
“From a community standpoint, every pound of food we collect equates to about a meal. We distribute about 275,000 meals a day, and to have about 32,000-plus meals, that’s a huge impact on our bottom line,” Brown said. “It was a tremendously successful food drive for St Mary’s. I think it was also for the public ... for bringing in the food for the hungry they were able to help themselves to a day at the fair, so it was a very cool partnership and one that we’re already talking about doing next year.”
Walsh said the Arizona State Fair serves as an educational tool for learning about Arizona’s economy and where resources come from.
“Our unique opportunity is to remind folks where their food comes from, where the agriculture comes from. Nowadays you can’t just see a cow in downtown Phoenix. This is a great opportunity to learn and teach your children about the origins about these things,” Walsh said.
The Arizona State Fair runs through Sunday.