Fairgrounds need strategic plan for success

Feb 25, 2013

The Haywood County Fairgrounds mean a lot of things to many people. It is the site of the annual county fair but also host to many other events that attract tourists to our county, including horse shows, tractor pulls, agriculture auctions and much more. And those tourists drive economic development within the county by spending money on hotel rooms, eating at our local restaurants and buying goods from our local businesses.

One could argue that a family or a couple close to retirement may visit Haywood for the first time to attend one of the fairgrounds’ events, fall in love with the community and decide to buy a house and move here.

But those scenarios are not possible if the fairgrounds are not maintained and marketed sufficiently to attract more events and more people.  Members of the fairgrounds board recently discussed their lack of funding and how it may affect the fairgrounds within the next year.

The county used to allocate $150,000 a year to the fairgrounds but ahs since stopped financially supporting the venture in 2009.

In addition to losing that funding, a director hired in 2011 to focus on marketing the grounds was cut to part time in 2012 to save money. The director resigned shortly after. In 2011, the commissioners reluctantly paid off $35,000 in loans for the buildings and also spent $415,000 to finish the arena to make the facilities more rentable.

But the improvements didn’t seem to make a difference and the fairgrounds board members are again asking for more money from the county to continue operations. Keeping the fairgrounds open is beneficial to Haywood residents’ quality of life, but like many public recreation services, it may not be profitable.

There are several options for improving fairgrounds operations, but the first step is to have a plan. We encourage the fairgrounds board to develop a short-term and long-term plan for what needs to happen to make the facilities successful and present it to the county commissioners. Perhaps the board could benefit from a few more volunteers with time to invest in the project. If you are passionate about the fairgrounds’ success — step up to volunteer.

Board members have stated that a full-time employee is needed to market the facilities and we agree. If there is any chance that the fairgrounds could become profitable, or at least have enough money to break even, it has to be marketed to increase revenues.

There also is the option of selling the fairgrounds to a private company if the county commissioners decide the project is too much of a drain on taxpayer dollars. But with private ownership comes the risk of increased rental prices that could exclude many community events from renting the facilities.

Whatever decision is made, it needs to be well thought out so future generations can enjoy the facilities. The county budget is tight and we understand that priorities must be set — and the fairgrounds should be one of those priorities because of its economic impact and the services it provides to the community.