Fried food, fluffy animals—and politics, of course. Welcome to the Iowa State Fair, which kicked off Thursday in Des Moines.
Logging one million visitors and $20.2 million in revenue over 11 days last year, the event, which kicked off Thursday in Des Moines, is one of the largest—and most anticipated—state fairs in the country.
"Of those million people that come to the Iowa State Fair, many stay in the surrounding area and they over course drive here and utilize our local businesses in addition to the fair," says Gary Slater, chief executive and manager of the Iowa State Fair. "We estimate it's over $100 million worth of economic impact in the eleven days."
State fairs are typically not-for-profit entities, but they are a big business, pulling in tens of millions of dollars in revenue. Iowa's fair is trumped only by larger and longer ones in Minnesota and Texas.
Minnesota's 12-day event pulled in 1.8 million visitors last year and more than $40 million in revenue, while Texas' 24-day extravaganza also grossed $42 million in coupon sales, with three million people in attendance.
"Attendance has steadily increased over the past seven to ten year: 75-82 percent [of state fairs] have reported steady-to-increased attendance, with weather the biggest factor," says Jim Tucker, chief executive and president of the International Association of Fairs and Exhibitions.
Tucker says fairs fared well during the economic downturn, as more people cut back on air travel but still wanted entertainment. Now many seem to be honing in on formulas that continue to draw crowds.