Dennis R. Lang To Retire As CEO & Erie County Fair Manager

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After 18 years of service to the Erie County Agricultural Society, Dennis “Denny” Lang has announced that he is stepping down from his position as Chief Executive Officer & Fair Manager effective September 29, 2017.  Mr. Lang will continue to act as a member of the Society’s Board of Directors. He is being succeeded by current Assistant Fair Manager and Manager of Agriculture, Jessica Underberg who officially assumes Lang’s former position on October 1st.

With a personal history at the fair dating back to the late 1950s, Lang was appointed CEO and Fair Manager in 1999. At the time of his hiring, the organization faced a growing, year-round operation that included a collection of antiquated heritage buildings, barns that were no longer adequate for the proper housing and showing of animals and an infrastructure of utilities that needed critical updating.  Confronted with challenges and opportunities, Lang’s leadership brought the Erie County Agricultural Society into the new millennium with new ideas, creative energy and an aggressive plan to put the organization on a stable financial footing to insure its future.

Lang led the efforts to reverse the trend of decreasing revenue from pari-mutual wagering at Buffalo Raceway with the opening of Fairgrounds Gaming and Raceway, now Hamburg Gaming, in 2004. With revenue generated from the gaming center, the Society was able to create a financial reserve and embarked on the largest capital improvement campaign in its year history. With animal comfort and safety a priority, the upgrading of livestock barns along McKinley Parkway took place that culminated with the opening of the Showplex Arena in 2010. New horse barns, a new paddock building and a modern horse show office soon followed. The art deco Firemen’s Building was the recipient of a $600,000 restoration effort in 2012 as well as the 1885 Octagon Building, now the Heritage and History Center Fair Museum. Fairgoers have also benefited from new amenities that included upgraded parklands, a new first aid building and lavatory complexes. To further the Society’s core mission, Lang saw the opening of the Agriculture Discovery Center in 2014 as the first structure on the fairgrounds dedicated exclusively to year-round agriculture education. Lang directed many infrastructure projects that included the rebuilding of sewers, drainage, retaining walls and electrical systems.

With the theme of “Growing Strong,” the 2014 Erie County Fair experienced an all-time recording breaking gate attendance of 1,220,101 giving it the honor of being named the 10th largest fair in North America. The ranking of fairs, based on attendance includes all county and state fairs, exhibitions, livestock and rodeo shows in the United States and Canada. Lang is going out on a high note as this year's Fair attendance was the second highest ever at 1,193,279.

Lang is credited for establishing the Fairgrounds Festival of Lights in 2003. The event has grown into the region’s largest holiday festival welcoming thousands of families during the Christmas season.   

Lang was first exposed to the Erie County Fair through his father, the late Paul Lang, who served as a member of the Erie County Agricultural Society Board of Directors and was involved in the Fair’s horse pulling competitions. In 1959, Dennis first exhibited ponies at the Fair which lead to a successful career in equine training. In 1982, he was asked to serve as the Fairground’s primary advisor for all horse activities and was elected to the Board of the Buffalo Trotting Association in 1990. Lang joined the ECAS Board of Directors in 1988 and served as Board chairman in 1998 and 1999. Following a career in the insurance industry, Lang was officially appointed CEO in October of 1999.

In 2003, Lang received his Certified Fair Executive status from the International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE).  He served on various IAFE committees including those focused on physical plant, county fairs and non-fair facility usage. In 2008, 2009 and 2010, Lang acted as IAFE Zone 1Director. Lang was President of the Midwest Fairs Association in 2008. He served as President of the New York State Association of Agricultural Fairs in 2005 and was inducted into the organizations Hall of Fame in 2016.

The Erie County Agricultural Society is a private not-for-profit membership organization. Established in 1819, the Society is the oldest civic organization in Western New York. The mission of the Erie County Agricultural Society (ECAS), sponsors of the Erie County Fair, is to preserve and enhance, by educational endeavors, the agricultural and historical legacy of New York State.

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