BizTimes Milwaukee: How have your past experiences prepared you for this role?
Shari Black: Most of my career has prepared me for this role, as well as my education and experiences I had growing up within the fair and the agriculture industry. I began showing cattle when I was 9 years old at the Waukesha County Fair. At a very young age, I became the Executive Director Waukesha County Fair and held that position for 15 years before moving to Wisconsin State Fair in 2016 as Director of Event Services. Throughout my career I served as Chief Programs Officer and now CEO. My experience with Wisconsin Association of Fairs and the International Association of Fairs and Exhibitions has helped me understand all facets of this industry.
BizTimes: What opportunities/challenges for you see on the horizon for your industry?
Black: Safety is always our top priority. This includes personal safety, ride safety and cleanliness. We learned a lot during the pandemic which allowed us to implement a number of safety measures that we have now adopted as standard protocol. The International Association of Fairs and Expos (IAFE) allows us to network with fairs from all over the world. It provides a great support network where we discuss numerous challenges that we face and the best way to approach them. Some discussions at our last convention included food sustainability, land conservation, security and keeping our staff engaged, among others. Some of ongoing challenges include staffing, increased cost of goods, supply chain issues and security concerns. But challenges always bring opportunity, and we are using these challenges to become more innovative and are looking forward to investing in new technology to help us overcome these challenges.
BizTimes: How has the pandemic strengthened your organization?
Black: In 2021 we were able to plan a fair even though we didn’t announce we were having the fair until May and everyone didn’t come back to the office fulltime until after Memorial Day. We found that our staff worked very well remotely and gave us the confidence to continue allowing hybrid work schedule if the position could support it. By cutting out commute times staff had time to complete projects more quickly. It has also helped us with staff retention as many of our employees appreciate the flexibility.
BizTimes: What do you see as the most important responsibility to your customers/fairgoers?
Black: Fairs began as a way for people to come together socially and celebrate agriculture, along with music, food and friendly competition. Our goal is to provide that same experience to our fairgoers. As more and more generations move away from farms and understanding agriculture, we have an obligation to teach them about where their food comes from and why it is so important to understand what they are putting in their bodies. Ultimately, the goals is to provide a safe, affordable and fun experience for all.
BizTimes: What will a Fair Day look like for you this year?
Black: We will see! I don’t know exactly what to expect as it is my first year in this role, but I am excited to take on whatever each day brings. I know each day will be different, as that is the nature of the Fair business. I look forward to seeing our staff in action, as they truly are some of the best in the business. We all work so hard to put on the best Fair possible each year, and I can’t wait to share it with everyone who walks through our gates.
640 South 84th Street • West Allis, WI 53214
(414) 266-7000 • wistatefair.com