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Longer Indiana State Fair could add corn dogs, cash: Extra days could boost sales by $1.3 million

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But extra helpings of your favorite fattening treats may be on their way. At its April 19 meeting, the Indiana State Fair Commission will consider whether to add up to five more days to the fair, starting in 2008.

"You'd have another weekend where people can come out to partake in fair activities," said Indiana State Fair Commission Chairman Kyle Hupfer. "My guess is you'd see some new folks come to the fair who wouldn't otherwise come."

This year, fair gates will be open Aug. 8-Aug. 19. Attendance regularly approaches 900,000, but nearly half of those total visits are on the crowded weekends. The commission is considering starting future fairs up to five days before the current Wednesday opening, adding a third weekend.

Last year, the fair booked profit of $315,000 on total sales of $10.2 million. The commission is still studying the potential financial impact of adding dates, but Hupfer said the analysis so far shows it could cost an extra $1 million and generate an additional $1.3 million-nearly doubling the fair's profit.

The extra days already are busy ones at the fairgrounds, Hupfer said, even though they aren't officially part of the State Fair. A wide variety of agricultural competitions and 4-H events are held there the weekend before the fair, including horse and dairy contests and a swine show. But the Midway rides and concessions aren't open yet.

"The fair, for all intents and purposes, is already running those days anyway," he said. "It's just not-quote unquote-'officially the fair.'"

Lengthening the fair also would create a natural hedge against bad weather, Hupfer said. In the case of a rainout, the fair would enjoy an extra weekend to make up lost sales.

The primary obstacle is the potential impact an extended Indiana State Fair might have on county fairs-particularly those in Brown, Clinton and Morgan counties, which would overlap the first weekend.

State Fair officials are trying to address the potential conflict with their countyfair counterparts, said Larry Vandenberg, president-elect of the Indiana Association of Fairs, Festivals and Events. And he's confident a compromise can be found.

"Everybody's proud of their county fair, and they want to make sure their fair is successful," he said. "There's just not enough time to get in all the fairs. There's got to be some give and take."

In the meantime, Indiana State Fair officials are working on the logistics of their 2007 event. For example, Indiana State Fairgrounds Executive Director Cynthia Hoye said members of her team are working to increase the fair's corporate sponsorships. In 2006, 74 sponsors contributed about $1.1 million in revenue.

That often means building upon relationships established with existing sponsors. At $170,000, Pepsi Co. remains the fair's largest patron. But Hoye said officials are in negotiations with Toyota to increase its support; last year, the automaker underwrote the fair's grandstands and its day nursery.

The fair also is continually looking for ways to cut expenses, she said. For example, the fair is increasing its ties to the Indiana Department of Corrections, which provides contract labor from its prisons.

Hoye said supervised DOC labor already helps with some tasks, such as welding broken animal pens. Soon, prisoners working in small groups will handle other chores, such as landscaping, sweeping out horse stalls or removing trash from parking lots.

"It's 250 acres out here," she said. "People don't realize how big a complex it is, and how much it takes to maintain it."

Profits from the Indiana State Fair are used to improve the fairgrounds, which host a wide variety of other events yearround.

Now, Indiana's fair is shorter than its counterparts in other Midwestern states such as Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, said Bruce Jaffee, a professor of business economics at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business who has studied the fair's economic impact.

Adding days would be a savvy business decision, he said.

"Clearly, the big days are always going to be a Friday night and a Saturday, and to a lesser extent a Sunday afternoon," Jaffee said. "It's a great move for them, and for that matter a great move for attracting additional and new people to the State Fair."
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