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New fair director wants renewed focus on agriculture

 
By Maggie Menderski
State Journal-Register
Posted on 5/7/2015, 10:17 AM

The new manager for the Illinois State Fair announced Wednesday, May 6 his plans to strengthen the event"s finances and agricultural roots.

Patrick Buchen, a Fulton County native with a background in agriculture and event management, believes the focus on agriculture at the fair has dwindled in recent years. As the new manager settled into his role managing the Illinois State Fair and Du Quoin State Fair this week, he announced his intention to tap into the state"s vibrant agriculture industry to boost the fairs" self-sufficiency. Both fairs have lost money in recent years, and he believes calling on industry giants could help stabilize the struggling tradition.

"It"s the number one industry in the state of Illinois, and it"s a multibillion dollar industry," Buchen said in his remarks during a news conference on Wednesday. "There is no industry larger than agriculture, and we believe the state fair needs to be that beacon for agriculture."

This is the first time since the state acquired the Du Quoin fair in 1986 that the two fairs will have a single manager. Buchen, who most recently served as president and CEO of Adjuvant Expos Inc. in Texas, intends to use his experience from the expos in fostering sponsorships to steady the fair"s income stream. He"d like to see a greater presence from companies like Cargill, ADM, John Deere and Pioneer on the fairgrounds. That methodology, he said, also fits with the fair theme "Growing Illinois," which was announced during the news conference.

"It"s going to be a big ship to turn around, but ultimately it"s going to be one of our goals to be more self-sufficient and that"s going to take a lot of hard work and some time to do that," Buchen said.

Losses at the Springfield fair totaled $3.5 million, and the Du Quoin fair lost nearly $595,000 in fiscal 2013, according to a summer 2014 report from the Illinois Auditor General's Office. Phil Nelson, director for the Illinois Department of Agriculture, said in a statement earlier this week that having a single manager for the two state fairs reflects the fiscal realities. Buchen"s salary is $120,000. The former Springfield and Du Quoin fair managers earned $90,400 and $71,000, respectfully, according to state records.

"I"m confident that Patrick Buchen can effectively manage both state fair operations," Nelson said. "In this day and age of shared sacrifice, we at the Illinois Department of Agriculture are tightening our belts where we can, but at the same time preserve the traditions that Illinois residents enjoy at both state fairs."

Buchen said his dual role presents the fair staff with a greater opportunity to create a synergy between the two fairs. He expects Du Quoin will benefit from Springfield"s resources and that the downstate fair can serve as a model for how the Illinois State Fair should center on agriculture. He wants to see the staff in both Springfield and Du Quoin work to promote both fairs.

"I think the challenge is to always keep our sister or brother fair, or however you want to identify it, in mind," he said. "Is whatever we do here, is that something that would be applicable in Du Quion and vice versa?"

The new manager intends to make a weekly trip to Du Quoin and spend one to two days there working onsite. Buchen has already spent two nights at the manager"s residence on the Illinois State Fairgrounds, and he and his wife have plans to live there full time.

"I slept there two nights, and I slept very well," he said. "I had a few little four-legged creatures as company, but we"ll ask them to leave and then go from there."