Adams County to participate in survey looking at economic impact of county fairs

Posted: Jul. 5, 2014 7:12 pm Updated: Jul. 27, 2014 12:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

MENDON, Ill. -- Some Adams County 4-H members will be doing more than showing livestock at the Adams County Fair.

They're also hoping to show the fair's impact on the community.

People will be surveyed in 15 counties, including Adams, to assess the economic impact of Illinois' agricultural fairs. The survey is a joint project by University of Illinois Extension and the Illinois Association of Agricultural Fairs.

"A lot of our funding comes from state funds, if you will, for county fairs. That's always in jeopardy every year," association Secretary Bill Fugate said. "Our hope and our goal is that we do find an economic impact on communities and business, and with that, we can continue to promote county fairs to our state legislature and local entities."

Trained 4-H youth surveyors will ask a percentage of fair-goers to complete a survey to collect information about their spending habits at the fair, their reason for attending and other information. Youth also will be involved in presenting the survey results at the association's annual meeting in January.

Carrie McKillip, an Extension community development educator based in Galesburg, is helping lead the survey project.

"It's important for people to realize how important these activities are in our rural communities --and it's so much more than economics," she said. "The fairs are a place where communities come together."

In addition to the blind surveys, key members of the county fair experience including fair board members, livestock superintendents, carnival operators, exhibitors and vendors will be interviewed. McKillip said those interviews will focus "on issues that can't be quantified" like the leadership skills developed in youth exhibiting at a fair.

Five fairs from each association region were selected for the survey based on a "stratified random sample" model looking at large, medium and small fairs as well as those without a carnival. Up to 500 fair-goers will be surveyed in the 15 counties -- Adams, Champaign, Clark, DeKalb, Fayette, Greene, Hamilton, Lake, Marshall, Mason, Massac, Mercer, Monroe, Richland and Whiteside.

Survey work began in June at the Greene County Fair and will continue through early September in DeKalb.

"It's going to make for a fun summer," McKillip said. "Extension has a long history of working hand in hand with agricultural fairs in Illinois. This seemed to be a perfect match and an opportunity for our youth to learn something about research methodology."

Sheri Merry, Extension youth development educator serving Adams, Brown, Hancock, Pike and Schuyler counties, said the survey gives 4-H youth another chance to get involved.

"It gives them a sense of thinking about community and contributing back," she said. "Sometimes you have to invest in things to have it there for you."

The Illinois Association of Agricultural Fairs talked about doing a survey for several years but never figured out the details, Fugate said, until hearing about a similar, and successful, effort done by the Pennsylvania fair association.

Extension and the agricultural fairs association are funding the project, with the Illinois Department of Agriculture helping with printing costs.