Insuring #PartyBigWA: Client Spotlight on the Washington State Fair

HWINS R 45 WA ST Fair

Being in and around the fair and festival industry for all of my life means I’ve developed quite an affinity for all things associated with this form of outdoor entertainment. I know the best funnel cakes and corn dogs, which rides give me that sought-after stomach drop, and what judges really look for in a prize-winning heifer, pig or pie. I’ve lost count of the number of state, county and local fairs and festivals I’ve attended in my life. And while I do my best not to pick favorites, I must say I have an affinity for the Washington State Fair, which occurs every September. “The Fair,” as it’s known in Washington State, has been a long-standing client for Haas & Wilkerson Insurance and is thus deserving of this month’s client spotlight. 

“The Fair mission is: We provide Washington’s home to gather and celebrate for generations to come.”

The Washington State Fair has more than 100 years of history. In 1900, the citizens of the Puyallup Valley came together to start the Valley Fair (it was renamed the Western Washington Fair in 1913 and officially renamed the Washington State Fair in 2013). But instead of seeking state funds, they raised money by selling shares of the fair to the local farmers and businessmen. Nine hundred people bought shares of the fair for $1 per share to raise the fair’s first $3,000. And those shares are still bought and sold privately today.

“Back in 1900 a group of farmers and business owners joined together to create a place where they could showcase animals and agriculture from the rich Puyallup Valley … The October 4-6, 1900, Fair was a success in downtown Puyallup that very first year. The Valley Fair brought crowds from around the area, and even as far away as Tacoma.” – Washington State Fair

One aspect of the Washington State Fair that makes it stand apart from most state fairs is that it’s a private, not-for-profit corporation. Since its beginning, it has not received governmental monies to operate. The Fair is a self-sustaining operation that pays property and admission taxes just like any other entertainment business in the state. However, as a nonprofit, the Fair reinvests gains in maintaining facilities and expanding programs. It’s also a major reason the Fair is still going strong today while many state fairs across the country struggle to roll with the times.

My good friend, Kent Hojem, has been the CEO of the Washington State Fair since 2005, but our history at the Fair goes back much further. He’s been a part of the Fair for more than 20 years. In his early days with the fair – and mine with Haas & Wilkerson Insurance – we often ventured off together to experience the sights, sounds and smells of the fair while my dad, Bill Wilkerson, and then CEO, Bob Carlson, did business. We cut our teeth on the fair business together, and to this day when I go to the Washington State Fair in September, we always find time to enjoy the experience together as participants. I’m sure Kent has a few stories he could tell about me that are not terribly flattering, but it goes both ways! We definitely eat food together our wives would frown upon.

Kent and his team of 1,800 full- and part-time staff at the Washington State Fair have really put together a model of how to do things right. That’s probably one of the reasons we’re all thrilled Kent currently serves as the chairman of the International Fair and Exposition Association. His years of experience and deep knowledge of how to run a top-notch agricultural fair make him an outstanding resource for the entire industry.

When I asked Kent why he continues to partner with Haas & Wilkerson Insurance to serve the needs of the Washington State Fair, he said the following:

“As a private not-for-profit fair, we don’t have a safety net. There’s no public safety net like a government entity out there looking out for us if something goes wrong. If we take a misstep, it’s all on us. Haas & Wilkerson Insurance is so valuable to us because they get that. They know we need to operate like a business and need to be covered like a business. They give us confidence that they’ll be right there with us, making sure they take care of us. They have the best people in the business checking up on us beforehand and during the first few days of operation to make sure the fair is set up appropriately and our fair guests are safe.”

When we work with a state, county or local fair, we hope they consider our team more than just their insurance broker. We aim to be a value-added resource. For example, when the Washington State Fair considered their name change in 2013 and recently expanded their dates for the 2016 season, we were with them every step of the way giving our input on the risks they faced with those changes. I appreciate how Kent put it:

“A key value add from Haas & Wilkerson Insurance is their personal touch. Their folks who work with us know us. They are familiar with our site and our operation as well as the fair industry. In fact, they know fairs better then anyone. They get out and see so many other fairs. It’s great to bounce ideas off of them. They are a tremendous resource just in terms of what they see happening in the industry. We can rest assured that we are getting the appropriate coverage.”

As part of our commitment to keeping the fair industry safe, we know we need to stay on the cutting edge of what’s happening in the industry and to know the latest insurance products available. Being hyper-knowledgeable about the insurance business and the fair industry is our goal to best serve our clients in the fairs and festivals industry.

In September, you’ll find Ryan Wilkerson making his annual visit to the Washington State Fair and sneaking a funnel cake with his friend Kent Hojem. Ryan is president and CEO of Haas & Wilkerson Insurance, a third-generation, family-owned, independent insurance agency.

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