GEAUGA COUNTY, Ohio — Governor Mike DeWine announced late Thursday afternoon that county fairs in Ohio can continue with health guidelines as a top priority.
That announcement came as a sigh of relief for many fair board members across Ohio who said they were left with little guidance about how to move forward in the past few weeks.
“From an industry standpoint statewide, the economic impact is just staggering,” said Paul Harris, of the Great Geauga County Fair. “The number, I don’t even know if it can be added up exactly.”
During his announcement, DeWine acknowledged the economic importance of county fairs and 4-H programs statewide.
“We have a number of great county fairs and independent fairs in Ohio,” DeWine said. “We assembled a task force from across the state to look at the possibility of holding junior fairs over the summer.”
Harris echoed that statement when deciding to move forward with that fair Labor Day weekend.
“Many of these kids use this money and finances to go toward their college education,” Harris said. “They pay for college, they put it away.”
DeWine said guidelines will be implemented for upcoming fairs that focus heavily on social distancing, limiting crowds and prioritizing the health of everyone involved in junior fairs.
Ultimately though, the governor is leaving those choices up to fair committees who will be required to partner with their local health department to make decisions.
Harris said the Geauga County Fair Board has already been preparing for the upcoming September event.
“Ride companies, concessions companies, even situations like sanitary rental units and things like that,” Harris said. “All the different aspects that come together to make a fair successful.”
Ty Higgins of the Ohio Farm Bureau said junior livestock shows could look much different in the months ahead, largely thanks to technology.
“Kids can still go to the fairgrounds and show their exhibit in the ring but nobody else is going to be in the barn,” Higgins said. “So grandma and grandpa, mom and dad, brothers and sisters can watch from the comfort of their own home.”
However, Higgins anticipates some fairs will still be forced to cancel events due to financial reasons.
“Economically speaking, county fairs are kind of up against the wall this year,” Higgins said. “And if you can only expect maybe thirty or forty percent of the people coming that you normally would to a fair and you’re going to lose money, it’s going to make sense for those fairs to shut down this year.”
According to DeWine, the Department of Agriculture is in the process of distributing state funding to 94 different county and independent fairs in Ohio.