By James Chilton, Cowboy State Daily
DOUGLAS – This year’s Wyoming State Fair is over, but the next chapter of its story is just beginning as fair organizers begin to realize proceeds from the fair’s newly-established endowment fund.
Approved by the state Legislature in 2018, the Wyoming State Fair Endowment was established to provide a permanent, stable and consistent source of funding to draw on in future years, rather than rely on appropriations from the state’s General Fund — its main banking account — which is subject to swings based on the fortunes of the energy and tourism markets.
“It’s always been (dependent on) the General Fund, and when you have a downturn in the economy, that impacts your ability to use those funds,” said Doug Miyamoto, director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. “The state fair has always operated as an educational venue and a state championship for youth in agriculture. Over the past couple of years the philosophy’s changed, and I think the legislature is looking to transition to more of a pay-to-play type situation.”
Individual and business donors have raised $100,000 for the state endowment in its first year, which was matched dollar-for-dollar by the state treasurer’s office. That’s on top of the $100,000 the endowment started with from its initial legislation, and another $1.1 million added by the Legislature in this year’s supplementary budget bill.
But by far the biggest gift to the endowment to date was $2 million from the Wyoming Pari-Mutuel Commission, which oversees the state’s live and off-track horse race wagering.
“That shot in the arm from the Pari-Mutuel Commission is certainly one that’s appreciated,” Miyamoto said.
With $3.3 million to start with, Miyamoto said the fair will generate $150,000 a year in interest, with three-quarters of that to be reinvested into the endowment. As the corpus grows, Miyamoto said the 25 percent left over for operating revenue will trend upward too; but it won’t be the only new revenue source for the fair going forward.
“The endgame is to diversify the funding sources for the fair, so the endowment is one aspect of a larger strategic effort,” Miyamoto said. “We got a new state fair board who can reach out to businesses around the state and get some corporate sponsorship for the fair, try to use the facilities to generate revenue. We’re going to push as hard as we can to get sponsorships and contributions up.”