Farm Show Complex holds a valued history
By GEORGE GREIG
Pa. Secretary of Agriculture
Since the state’s first agriculture show, hosted by William Penn in Philadelphia in 1686, farmers have gathered across Pennsylvania to showcase their farm successes, hear about new technology and talk with old friends.
The first annual statewide exhibition, the Pennsylvania Corn, Fruit, Vegetable, Dairy Products and Wool Show, was held in Harrisburg in 1917 and covered just 10,000 square feet and attracted 5000 people. By 1927, attendance grew to 50,000, and in 1931 the show was officially named the Pennsylvania Farm Show and housed in a new building located on reclaimed land on the outskirts of Harrisburg.
Today that building, the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center, maintains whispers of the past. When you walk through its doors, you can almost smell the welding and hear the clank of metal from the building’s time as a wartime factory, or see show animals being unloaded from rail stock cars.
Now the complex hosts more than 300 events and meetings and welcomes in excess of one million visitors annually. While agriculture remains at the heart of its function, the modern building is home to trade shows, sporting events, conventions and more. It features nearly one million square feet of flexible exhibit space under one roof and plenty of parking, and easily hosts a variety of events and meetings at the same time. In 2011, the original part of the building was remodeled and is now home to the Keystone Conference Center, adding more options for smaller meetings.
A cash cow for the regional economy, the complex brings more than $350 million in economic impact into the Harrisburg area each year because of visitor spending at restaurants, hotels and shopping and tourism spots. The building’s namesake event in January brings more than 400,000 visitors and about $90 million to the region. Next year, the State Games of America expects to bring 10,000 people to Harrisburg, while the American Rabbit Breeders Association national convention in October 2013 and Mennonite World Conference in July 2015 will draw 15,000 people and $40.5 million in economic activity.
The Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center is bringing money to Pennsylvania, and it will continue because of our dedicated Farm Show team. Nearly 60 full-time staff and 30 seasonal workers offer unmatched customer service. They’re efficient, responsive and committed to the success of every event.
The team, with the help of the Farm Show Commission, recently put together a strategic plan to make the complex Pennsylvania’s preferred multi-use facility for expositions, exhibitions, conventions, sporting and social events, meetings and banquets. The plan includes increasing complex utilization, ramping up marketing efforts and making capital improvements.
The plan is a continuation of our efforts to operate the complex like a profitable business by increasing revenue and decreasing costs. Since the 2004-2005 fiscal year, the facility’s revenue is up 20 percent. Occupancy in major halls increased to 76 percent, from 72 percent five years ago. During the same time, we cut expenses by $200,000 by cutting energy costs and operating more efficiently.
As part of our cost savings efforts, we’re also seeking new public-private partnerships to help in the operation of the complex with minimal taxpayer dollars. Recently, the complex entered into a $750,000 sponsorship agreement with Weis Markets for naming rights to the Expo Hall. Other sponsors include Ford, Nationwide Insurance and Highmark. All told, the sponsorships bring in nearly $225,000 to the complex’s overall operating budget each year.
The Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center serves to advance and promote agriculture and commercial industries, and I encourage you to stop by one of the many shows we’re hosting over the next several months and see what we’ve been up to.