Nebraska State Fair gets new director

February 4, 2018

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) — New Nebraska State Fair Director Lori Cox said it’s a “great honor to be a part of Nebraska.”

Earlier this month, the Nebraska State Fair board named Cox as the new director. She replaces Joseph McDermott, who retired after serving the State Fair for more than 30 years, The Grand Island Independent reported.

Cox has more than 26 years of strategic leadership and marketing experience, and 12 years in the fair industry. Before coming to the Nebraska State Fair, Cox served as general manager of the Big Sky Country State Fair in Bozeman, Mon. She has also worked for the Western Idaho Fair and Montana State Fair.

“There is something special about this area,” Cox said about moving to the heart of Nebraska’s agricultural country. “This state has a long and storied history in agricultural production.”

Cox is no stranger to agriculture. She was raised on a family farm near Hobson, Montana and the family farm grew wheat and barley in addition to a cattle operation.

Her career in the fair industry started as a marketing director for the Montana State Fair in Great Falls in 2003.

“I found it was an opportunity to step up in my career,” Cox said.

Before joining the Montana State Fair, she had worked in marketing.

Her mentor at the Montana State Fair was Bill Ogg, the general manager at the time.

He imparted to her a piece of wisdom about managing a fair that has guided her career.

“Bill always said, and he still says today, that you got to move the pickle,” Cox said. “If you don’t move the pickles it is not fresh. They may not know it is the same jar of pickles, but you have to move them.”

Cox worked at the Montana State Fair for five years before she became marketing director at the Western Idaho Fair in Boise. She worked there for four years before working for the Montana State University Alumni Association in Bozeman.

In Bozeman, she became a member of the Big Sky Country State Fair board of directors. In 2015, she became the Fair’s manager.

Cox said what attracted her to the Nebraska State Fair was its focus on agriculture. Another plus for Cox was the Nebraska State Fair board that hired her.

“They all are just genuine people,” she said.

Chris Kircher, chair of the Nebraska State Fair Board, said the Nebraska State Fair is “thrilled” to have Cox as their new fair director.

“Not only is she well-recognized within the fair industry and has an impeccable track record, but she also has absolutely the right skills to continue the growth of the fair and to possibly ramp it up,” Kircher said.

He said Cox has experience in agriculture side of the fair.

“That is a big part of this fair,” Kircher said.

He also said her marketing experience and ability to work with corporate and individual sponsors was a big plus.

“She is a complete package,” Kircher said. “The work she has done at other fairs shows that not only does she know how to draw on those skills but to use them for the benefit of the fair she is working for.”

That combination of marketing and fair management will be a plus in bringing the Nebraska State Fair’s message to all parts of Nebraska.

Kircher said he is optimistic about the fair’s future under Cox’s leadership.

“I see a lot of opportunities, and I think she does as well,” he said. “She is already providing excellent input on different initiatives being planned. It will take time for her to get to know Nebraska, and how the fair operates and what the opportunities are. I expect good things not only this year but the years beyond that.”

Cox said another aspect of the board she appreciates is their macromanagement approach in the Fair’s operation.

“We have the opportunity to decide on our operational virtues as well as economic prowess,” she said. “That is critical to me. If you are hamstrung by bureaucracy, then nothing happens. I have been down that road too many times. That was appealing to me — the structure they have in place.”

Cox said the facilities at Fonner Park are “astounding,” especially the Five Points Bank Livestock Arena, livestock barns, exposition center and Fieldhouse.

“We talk a lot about multipurpose in our industry, but the fact that they put a twist on that with an ag bent to it is great and very spry,” she said. “It gives the fair a competitive advantage.”

Cox said she is also impressed by the partnerships established between the fair and the Grand Island community, from city government to the chamber of commerce, to the convention and visitors bureau to Fonner Park.

She said she is looking forward to meeting members of the community and strengthening the partnership with the fair. Along with building a team approach with her staff and the community, Cox also wants to tour the state to get to know it better and its people.

Cox said she sees her mission to continue to grow the Nebraska State Fair, especially in attracting fairgoers from across the state.

“There is a lot of different ways to grow a fair, but sustainability is the key,” she said.

Cox said sustainable growth is more than having strong concert lineups each year.

She said concerts rank fourth or fifth reason by the public on why they attend.

“The number one reason is always the animals,” Cox said.

During the State Fair, there are more than 5,000 animals on display. Many are shown by 4-H and FFA youth, along with the open class competitors. Cox said state fairs are one of the last venues where the public can see such a wide variety of different animals.

Another strong attraction is the variety and novelty of foods vendors bring.

“This team (state fair staff) is amazing,” she said. “They are already doing some great things with new foods every year.”

Cox is also interested in focusing on those niches that make the Nebraska State Fair stand. She wants to improve on them, along with creating new opportunities. Focusing on what makes the Nebraska State Fair special will increase revenues that pay for improvements.

Cox is also going to focus on those areas that the staff has identified to her that will improve the fair. That includes continued development of the east end of Fonner Park, improving the main gate, improving traffic flows, improving the outdoor concert series and future growth of livestock facilities and shows.

She said fairs are still very relevant in today’s changing world.

“It is the last best place to teach the public about agriculture,” Cox said.

She said the State Fair has a strong partnership with the Nebraska Department of Agriculture and the University of Nebraska. She appreciates that 4-H and FFA representatives are on the fair board.

“There is no one else left to do it,” Cox said about the fair’s agricultural mission. “We have stewardship and a duty to broadcast our ag message to the urban public because we feed the world. If we don’t do that, who is going to eat?”


Information from: The Grand Island Independent, http://www.theindependent.com

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