The California Mid-State Fair generated an estimated $52.4 million in spending in 2009, according to a state study last fall.
That ranks the Mid-State Fair in the top 10 fairs in spending — putting it in eighth place among the state’s 78.
The state touts the Mid-State Fair, which opens today, as an economic engine that helps local government, business and residents through the spending it spurs, the tax revenues it collects and the jobs it creates.
Though the specific economic impact of the fair on San Luis Obispo County is unclear, the local business exposure, fundraising opportunities and seasonal work the fair brings are staples for locals.Some hotels and businesses also see higher sales than at other times.
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Seasonal workers get added boosts in income through various jobs around the fair.
Overall, state officials say the money spent at and around the Paso Robles Event Center fairgrounds — whether it’s on food concessions or last-minute supplies concessionaries stock — has a ripple effect on the economy.
Along with the millions spent each year by fair-goers, workers and concessionaires, an estimated $707,600 in sales, licensing and land use tax revenue went to state and local governments from the Mid-State Fair in 2009, according to the study.
The city of Paso Robles gets 1 percent of the 7.25 percent sales tax from certain items sold at and around the fair, but officials can’t disclose specific sums because it’s deemed proprietary information.
Local businesses love it
For Happy Acres Family Farm owner Stephanie Simonin, the Mid-State Fair is all about exposure.“It’s such a cross section of society,” Simonin said Tuesday as she readied her booth.
“In one spot you get every member of the community seeing your business and everyone sees your product.”
Simonin sold goat milk ice cream, lotions and cheese at the fair for the first time last year. Her family’s 56-acre farm and goat dairy tucked away in Templeton gained attention last season after her 12-day stint as a fair commercial exhibitor.
While Simonin wasn’t sure how much money she made in booth sales, she said the experience was enough to bring her back this year.
At the Adelaide Inn and Best Western Plus Black Oak in Paso Robles, concertgoers, food vendors and youth showing livestock are mainstays to the two hotels adjacent to the Paso Robles Event Center where the fair is held.
“I always call the fair my Christmas time,” said Matt Masia, who owns the longtime businesses with his family.
While reservations in the first week of the fair depend on what acts are playing, Masia said the second week is booked solid with families who stay five to six nights to be close to their kids’ 4-H and FFA livestock auction and shows.
Up to a dozen vendors from throughout the country also stay at Masia’s hotels, each staying all 12 days.“It’s just not a normal type of stay — people kind of move in for two weeks. But it’s also what we do during this season,” he said.
Other businesses, such as the eateries that line 24th Street around his hotels, are also bustling during the fair, he said.
Summer work abounds
Seasonal work is also critical to locals who flock to the fair. Jobs at the Mid-State Fair created approximately $15 million in salary and benefits in 2009, according to the state study.
Ranging from setup to security to bus driving, the seasonal work is especially helpful during the economic downturn, organizers said.
Local teachers and school staff affected by state cuts during the school year are among the many who look for the work.
The Mid-State Fair has hired Jason Taylor, 43, of Paso Robles for the past four years to be its director of transportation.
He said about 35 to 40 bus drivers are hired to operate the fair shuttles. The majority of drivers come from Paso Robles Public Schools. The remainder come from other school districts in the county, he said.
Taylor also works for the school district but says he takes the fair gig because it’s a family tradition. His children volunteer for the fair, his wife works in security and his mother works with the arts exhibits.
“I do it because I am part of Paso Robles,” he said. “Because it is my heritage — born and raised.”
Fundraising starts early
Local nonprofit groups and charities also see monetary perks from the fair each year.
Some of the most popular fundraisers begin before the fair even starts. Several groups and businesses sell discounted wristbands for carnival rides because the fair allows for 15 percent of the proceeds to be donated to nonprofit organizations.
The El Korita Del Real market on Creston Road in Paso Robles this year donated about $1,000 in charitable wristband proceeds to the San Luis Obispo Foster Parent Association. The foster group then directs the money to college scholarships for local foster youth. The market buys the bands and has been donating to the foster group for at least seven years.
“These people really have a heart to help,” Association president Jan Gaona said.
Students also benefit from the fair in other ways. Just outside the Event Center’s gates, private parking lots are donated to local clubs so youth can earn money for activities such as sports or band.
The Paso Robles High School Marching Band earned about $2,000 last year in just two days after 15 students took shifts to direct people where to park in a lot off of 24th Street for $5 per car.
This year, the students were allotted more parking spaces. They hope to raise double that sum.
Youth efforts also help other charity groups, such as the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County.
For the past four years, Edna Valley 4-H member Christine Allen, 17, has donated her animal and extra fundraising dollars to help feed those in need.
Allen, who became a local celebrity last year for raising $10,000 for the food bank with her siblings during the fair’s Junior Livestock Auction, has raised another $5,000 this year. The money covers her roughly $3,600 British shorthorn steer and the processing fees it takes to butcher it for the food bank.