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2023 Erie County Fair Impact: A Q&A with the CEO

To Erie County Fair fans,

I hope you are enjoying the final bits of summer! I want to take some time to address common questions and misconceptions regarding the Erie County Fair as we reflect on the 2023 event. I hope you find this piece to be honest, insightful and even inspiring. Let’s dig in!

Q: Do you consider the 2023 Fair a success?

A: YES! (I’m smiling as I type this)

When putting on WNY’s largest event, safety is a top priority. I’m grateful to report this year’s Fair had one of our lowest incidence reports to-date. Our security and emergency management divisions deserve immense recognition for their dedication to fairgoer safety.

Another top priority of ours is the fairgoer experience. This year, fairgoers spent more time at the Fair. On average, Fairgoers spent 5-6 hours at the Fair, up from 3-4 hours last year. It’s clear that the Fair is a full day of fun for many of our visitors.

It’s also worth sharing that nearly 50% of our year-round administrative colleagues were new leading into the 2023 Fair. I’m so proud to have watched the team come together to make this Fair even better than the last amid so many potential challenges that come with having new staff. Simply put, they crushed it!

Q: Let’s address the most common question. What was the 2023 attendance number?

A: We’re proud to again surpass the 1 million milestone with this year’s Fair! Attendance this year was 1,125,347, which is less than a 2% decrease when compared to 2022. This could be from the bad weather we experienced on numerous days, the gate admission price increase, inflation, or a handful of other factors.

Q: Why didn’t you release the attendance number sooner?

A: This may come as a surprise to some… our philosophy on success is not tied to a single number like attendance. We look at a wide range of impact metrics—which we began sharing back in 2019. To be completely honest, I wish we didn’t release the attendance number at all! It creates unnecessary competition with other Fairs. Fairs across the state are funded differently and reach different demographics, so its never an apples-to-apples comparison. There will probably come a time when we stop releasing our attendance number altogether, which is not an uncommon trend in the industry.

Q: What are your impact metrics?

A: We have a ton to share, so I’ve included a graphic below to summarize all of the key impact metrics. I’ll highlight two special numbers here:

1. Our Opening Day Food Drive shattered last year’s record, raising 140,834 pounds of canned goods, a 46% increase over last year. This equates to 117,362 meals for our neighbors through FeedMore WNY thanks to all of YOU!

2. We awarded a record $50,000 in scholarships to area high school and college students who are pursuing degrees in agriculture and/or have engaged in Erie County Fair or Erie County Agricultural Society activities. This is a 25% increase over last year and gets us closer to our goal of giving out 6-figures in scholarships. I can’t wait to see what these 17 recipients do in the future!

Q: What do you wish the public knew about the Erie County Fair that they might not?

A: We are not affiliated with a government agency and do not receive major funding from New York State or the County of Erie. One of the most common misconceptions is that we are part of a government agency. The Erie County Fair is hosted by the Erie County Agricultural Society (ECAS), a private not-for-profit membership organization located on the Hamburg Fairgrounds. ECAS has been around since 1819 and is the oldest civic organization in Western New York. We have 452 members.

The purpose of ECAS is to preserve and enhance, by educational endeavors, the agricultural and historical legacy of New York State. ECAS sponsors the Erie County Fair, which promotes and showcases our community's agricultural traditions, talents, diversity and heritage.

Q: What else does the Erie County Agricultural Society’s staff work on throughout the year?

A: It’s hard to believe that the Erie County Fair isn’t the only event we put on! This fall, we’ll produce the Harvest Classic beef cattle show followed by the 26-night Festival of Lights. In 2024, we’ll produce WNY Equifest, Empire State Beef Classic and the WNY Preview Classic before we put on the 184th Erie County Fair. Beyond the shows we produce ourselves, we help facilitate other events on the Fairgrounds, like our Event Center’s calendar of shows and Buffalo Raceway’s five months of harness racing.

With a mission rooted in agriculture and education, one of our pinnacle efforts non-fair, is our Farm 2 Table program. This hands-on free field trip program is offered to kindergarten through 5th grade classrooms in Western New York and will host around 7,000 students this school year. Since 2010, ECAS has served 70,000+ students through this program. The team is also focused on revitalizing additional youth programs to reach all age groups including Little Sprouts (pre-school & pre-K) and a new and improved one-day Vet Camp (6th-8th grade). Look for more information soon!

There is so much to look forward to in the months ahead.

Thank you for reading and I hope you were able to join us for the Best 12 Days of Summer this August in support of advancing the Erie County Agricultural Society’s mission. I hope you will join me in expressing gratitude to our employees, board, volunteers, exhibitors, and partners for their commitment to the 183rd Erie County Fair. We hope to see you all on the Fairgrounds soon!

Jessica Underberg, CFE
CEO & Fair Manager
Erie County Agricultural Society, sponsor of the Erie County Fair

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