By: Marla Behrends
Springfield, IL - This morning, the attendees of the Illinois Association of Agricultural Fairs (IAAF) annual meeting heard the results of the Economic Impact of Illinois Agricultural Fairs study conducted in the summer of 2014. The study, conducted by the University of Illinois Extension in partnership with the IAAF, included surveys of nearly 5,000 fair attendees across the state, in addition to input from 33 key informant interviews.
The study reports $170 million was spent as a result of the 104 fairs in Illinois. In addition, key informant interviews revealed that these fairs contribute to the culture, unity and tradition of the communities they serve. County fair boards across the state are addressing challenges but the economic and social impact is significant throughout Illinois.
Beyond the economic impact, the study revealed that county fairs provide many benefits to the community that are not related to economic gains, family friendly entertainment, education about agriculture, opportunities for local organizations to get involved, traditional community events, fundraising for local groups and unique entertainment opportunities. The primary challenges that county fairs face today include lack of state funding, keeping youth involved, competing with other summer activities, declining contributions from local agriculture and limited volunteers.
The study was conducted at 15 fairs across the state, with surveys being collected by 4-H youth under the supervision of Extension staff, and key informant interviews conducted by Alex Norr, a graduate student from University of Illinois Department of Urban and Regional Planning. Norr also prepared the report, with supervision from Extension’s Community and Economic Development (CED) and 4-H Youth Development Staff. According to the Project’s Primary Investigator, CED Educator Carrie McKillip, “This project has illustrated the best of what Extension can contribute to its partners. By providing an avenue for campus based learning through the Department of Urban and Regional Planning as well as a learning experience for 4-H youth across the state, we were able to provide research based information to a valued partner.”