County and State Fairs: 2021 Updates & Challenges


State fairs reopened this summer, and big record-breaking crowds have been seen throughout the country. Along with big demand from the public, we’ve seen a lot of operational modifications at fairs.

Here is a brief recap:

  • Iowa State Fair — There will be no farm-to-fair dinner. The family-style sit-down meal for 500, during which Iowa farmers answer questions, will not happen in 2021. The on-site grape stomping is halted as well.
  • Indiana State Fair — Guests will find available COVID-19 vaccinations, and fully vaccinated individuals will have the option not to wear masks, pending any changes from the CDC. The annual ice cream eating contest, however, has been postponed. To help thin out the crowds, fair organizers added a weekend at the front of the fair schedule.
  • Oregon State Fair — The fair will open at full capacity with no mask or physical distancing requirements from Aug. 27 – Sept. 6.
  • The California State Fair – Cal Expo — It has no set date as the fairgrounds continue to be used as a mass vaccination center.

For county and state fairs reopening in 2021, the same challenges of the past remain, such as security, active shooter incidents, food safety, and more.

State fair 2021 reopening challenges

As much as everyone welcomes the reopenings of fairs, significant challenges in staffing shortages, budget limitations, and schedules remain. 

Labor shortage

Getting workforces back has been the biggest hurdle to clear for owners and operators. Many U.S. workers have not returned to their positions like the janitorial and seasonal staff. Fairs are also having trouble recruiting volunteers. Most fairs are working with an abbreviated staff compared to 2019. Some workaround has included focusing on high-capacity rides and attractions that require less labor to manage.

In Illinois, the Department of Agriculture is looking for 600 employees to work in the Illinois and Du Quoin state fairs. Employment opportunities include maintenance, cashiers, clerks, security, and parking staff. The Illinois State Fair begins on Aug. 12 and will run through Aug. 22. The Du Quoin State Fair will begin Aug. 27 and run through Labor Day weekend.

Reduced revenue

A reduction in revenue is expected for some fairs like the New York State Fair. Some events will certainly not go on with so much uncertainty about scheduled concerts and other specific events and tight scheduling. The New York State Fair plans to incentivize guests by reducing entry ticket prices from $10 to $3. They’re also offering free entry to anyone 65 and older. 

Security changes

Due to labor shortages and budget constraints, security may look different at fairs and state fairs in 2021. Guests at the Minnesota State Fair, for example, will notice a new change in security as they reach the gate. The Minnesota State Fair will be using sheriff’s deputies from the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office for security at the Great Minnesota Get-Together. This was decided after the board decided to disband the State Fair Police Department. The State Fair Police Department has arranged its security force by using paid volunteers from state departments.

County and state fair insurance

With scheduling hurdles, labor shortages, security issues, and additional issues, owners and operators must navigate in 2021 and stay protected with the proper insurance. Good insurance coverage will allow you to weather any unexpected storm that comes your way. McGowan Allied Specialty Insurance specializes in insuring risk in the amusement and entertainment industry.

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