State Fair at home now in G.I.

Eight years after lawmakers made a bold decision to move the Nebraska State Fair out of Lincoln, the event seems at home now in its Grand Island venue.
This year’s fair was another winner, with a number of new features and many of the tried and true attractions that have kept this show going for 149 consecutive years. Attendance came in at 379,108 this year, up an impressive 18,000 from a year ago and within 10,000 of the event’s all-time high in Lincoln.
Not surprisingly, 60 percent of the folks who walked through the gates came from Central Nebraska. There is tremendous potential to drive the numbers higher still with a stronger pull from the metro areas, though it’s always a challenge to entice folks to drive “so far west.” Adding some big name entertainment like Pentatonix, Brad Paisley and Ronnie Milsap is a good approach toward that end. There were reportedly a few issues with security and line of sight viewing at the outdoor venue, though “growing pains” are part of the process when trying new strategies and venues.
The close proximity to Hamilton County makes it especially convenient for local State Fair goers. This area prides itself of volunteerism, and there are opportunities galore at the Nebraska State Fair for that kind of hands-on involvement. An event of that size, with so many venues within the massive grounds, simply doesn’t happen without a small army of local volunteers.
My wife and I are regulars at the State Fair each year, watching our niece and nephews show sheep and goats while also taking it as many sights, sounds and tastes as we can. It offers a genuine slice of life in Nebraska, one that reminds us of our rural heritage. We wouldn’t miss it.
The other side of this win-win transition is becoming more visible now with the impressive growth of the Innovation Campus on the former site of the Nebraska State Fair in Lincoln. The investment and job creation potential there represents a better use of that space in both the long- and short-term, especially with its close proximity to the university and all its resources. Any pangs of angst from the 2010 move have, from my view, been long since forgotten.
The facilities in Grand Island are impressive, and so too is the feeling of ownership. The host community and Central Nebraska as a whole have stepped up and accepted this worthwhile challenge, giving the Nebraska State Fair a good home and a bright future.
Kurt Johnson

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