The 2023 State Fair and its road to post-pandemic recovery

Image of state fair is by Justin Kase Conder via NC State Fair Newsroom pool photos.

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  • The North Carolina State Fair is set for the Raleigh state fairgrounds from October 12-22, 2023

The North Carolina State Fair, one of the state’s most time-honored traditions, is only a few weeks away. The historic State Fair is set to be held at the Raleigh state fairgrounds from October 12-22, according to the Department of Agriculture

The N.C. State Fair, which began as a small Agricultural Society gathering in 1853, has transformed into one of the state’s most cherished annual traditions. Maintaining this agricultural heritage has not always been easy, however. Even the state’s own Agricultural Commissioner, Steve Troxler, has remarked how the Fair is “in the entertainment business” but that “it’s always going to be an agricultural fair.” 

Fortunately, the state’s efforts to produce a revenue-generating celebration of North Carolina’s agricultural history appear to be working. From about 1970 to 2020, the N.C. State Fair was profitable, drawing crowds of approximately one million visitors per year. During this streak of profitability, the Fair generated anywhere from $5.7-$11.5 million annually from ticket sales, ultimately netting an annual profit in the $1.5-$2 million range. 

Despite this relative string of good economic fortune for the Fair’s operators, the COVID-19 pandemic proved too great a hurdle to overcome, resulting in the 2020 Fair’s cancellation. This cancellation ultimately cost the state $9.2 million in lost revenue and stands as the first such suspension of activities since World War II. Since the Fair restarted in 2021, North Carolinians have flocked back to the fairgrounds in droves, illustrated by the 960,172 attendees at the 2022 Fair.

The N.C. State Fair, which functions as an enterprise fund, needs this massive revenue stream and continued attendance growth because state appropriations do not support it. As part of this arrangement, the state government enters into contracts with private entertainment companies like Power American Midways, which, since 2004, has agreed to put on the fair each year. This means the fair is facilitated yearly by a joint effort of public and private entities, much like the state’s utilities and transportation services.

For the fair’s 2023 edition, both its public and private backers hope to witness a continuance of its resounding post-pandemic comeback. As usual, the fair will have an assortment of events, highlighted by giant pumpkin displays, thrilling amusement rides, nightly firework shows, and a crash course in North Carolinian cuisine. 

“Last year was a strong Fair, and we are expecting a strong Fair for 2023,” remarks Heather Overton, the Agricultural Department’s Assistant Director for Public Affairs. Overton says the fair is “bringing in several new attractions and expecting over 30 new food vendors” as it continues to rebuild itself after the pandemic.

For more information about the fair and its schedule, you can check out the official N.C. State Fair website here.

Sherman Criner is an intern with the Carolina Journal and attends Duke University.