Nebraska State Fair brings in millions to Grand Island

Local4 News at 5
Published: Aug. 25, 2023 at 7:52 AM CDT
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GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (KSNB) - Thousands of people will soon be gathering in Grand Island for the Nebraska State Fair, leading to a surge in economic activity. To understand the impact, we first must understand the history.

Grand Island Chamber of Commerce President, Cindy Johnson said the city acquired the state fair in 2008. In that same year, Grand Island invested $7.5 million to facilitate the state fair’s relocation.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln contributed the most money because they wanted to use the land to expand their services, creating Innovation Park. Fast forward to today, the economic impact of Nebraska State Fair is over $20 million. That also includes what visitors spend at the fairgrounds, which trickles down to every local business.

“The Nebraska State Fair brings people to Grand Island,” said Johnson. “They bring new technology to the attendees of the Nebraska State Fair. They bring in a variety of acts and entertainment that are maybe not available in other places at other times of the year.”

Johnson said the Nebraska State Fair helps businesses look at Grand Island differently. Often times they feel Grand Island is too small for their business. But because the state fair brings up to 300,000 people in a two-week span, that changes some opinions.

Hotels are also at full capacity. Comfort Suites owner, Milo Graff said 75 percent of the property’s revenue comes from when state fair is in town. He said booking started two weeks after last year’s Nebraska State Fair. The property is one of the newer hotels in Grand Island, as it’s only been around for three years. He adds this year has been the busiest Nebraska State Fair for his property.

“We are literally booked every night of the State Fair other than this coming Sunday,” said Graff. “It’s our only night that we’re not booked at this time. There’s just more demand for rooms on the weekends. But at the same time every night it’s still going to be extremely busy.”

Graff said the volume of guest has lead to extra shifts at Comfort Suites and requires all hands on deck.

“We need to make sure we have full housekeeping staff on board, as well as breakfast, because we do serve breakfast every morning, and we have to make sure we have more than just the minimal amount of staff,” said Graff. “We do add an extra person for that.”

Graff said they generally have two people at the front desk during state fair. Director of Grand Island Tourism and Visitor Center, Brad Mellema said most fairgoers can be found at Fonner Park, but there are other places they’ll be.

“As they trickle out after a fair, absolutely they do come out and see different things that they have,” said Mellena. “Stuhr Museum and so forth is going to see fair visitors that go there. Downtown, they might come down whether it’s to grab a bite to eat or hit the antique store or something like that.”

Mellema said it took people at all levels in Nebraska to get the state fair to Grand Island. Adding, the planners were forward thinking when they added farm facilities to Fonner Park. Cindy Johnson said the moves made to bring the state fair to Grand Island has benefits after the fair ends.

“Because we have the facilities that were built for the Nebraska State Fair back in 2009-2010, we’re able to bring in shows, livestock shows particularly throughout the summer months,” said Johnson.

She stated that Junior National Livestock shows use the facilities from May to the beginning of August. Adding, livestock shows are conducted throughout the year at Fonner Park. She said without the state fair, Grand Island wouldn’t be hosting those shows.