WIUM Tristates Public Radio

County Fairs Hit Hard By Illinois Budget Cuts

Feb 15, 2015

The possibility of budget cuts makes the future of agricultural fairs in Illinois unknown.

A study released by the Illinois Association of Agricultural Fairs focused on the importance of county fairs to the state's economy.

Credit Illinois Association of Agricultural Fairs

Agricultural fairs rarely make a profit, and most are slowly using up their savings, if they had any.

Bill Jennings, president of the Richland County Fair, says they are lucky to have a financial reserve for maintenance of the fairgrounds.

"Over the last several years we have received tremendous cuts, and hopefully we'll be able to stop that bleeding and realize the impact that we're still having with county fairs throughout the state," he said.

Jennings is also the director of the IAAF, which says $170 million is spent annually in the state as a result of country fairs. That includes money spent within the fairgrounds and on hotels and transportation, according to a recent study by the University of Illinois Extension Department of Community and Economic Development.

The study did not look at the economic health of county fairs, many of which operate at a deficit. The fairs are supposed to be reimbursed for maintenance costs through the state, but that pot of money is currently underfunded.

Jennings worries that without county fairs, agricultural communities will lose a source of revenue, and an educational tool for the next generation of farmers.