Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear upset several NAILE stakeholders as result of his swift action on June 23 to change the makeup of the Kentucky State Fair Board (KSFB) through executive order.

The changes were the second since last fall, which the governor said were due to several organizations with inactive or non-existent Kentucky chapters, and also needed to expand the role of the KSFB to attract world-class entertainment.

In addition to Kentucky’s well-regarded state fair, KSFB oversees operations for the Kentucky Exposition Center and Kentucky International Convention Center. The former is where the State Fair, National Farm Machinery Show, and the NAILE are held each year.

Three KSFB board members lost their seats as result of the action, including Jane Cave who served as the NFO (National Farmers Organization) representative since 1992, the state’s former lt. governor, and a banker.

Rather than a committee of 15 members, two of which were appointed by the governor, the committee was expanded to 21 with 19 voting members in October. The new committee includes the governor and the governor’s agricultural policy director or their designees, as well as fifteen additional members appointed by the governor representing different geographical areas, areas of expertise, and organizations within the state.

Now, only two of 19 voting members will not be directly appointed by the governor; University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture dean and the state’s commissioner of agriculture. The state presidents of Kentucky’s FFA and 4-H organizations will serve as ex officio non-voting members on the board.

The governor also gave himself the power to appoint the board’s chairperson.

The KSFB was tasked with appointing a president who will serve as chief executive officer of the board, as well as general manager of the North American International Livestock Exposition (NAILE) executive committee.

“The Fair Board is no longer overseeing just agriculture-related events; the scope of businesses has exploded,” said Gov. Beshear in a release. “These facilities are vital economic drivers for the region, attracting conventions, tourists and major musical acts throughout the year. Expanding the board ensures that we maximize the potential of these venues and market them aggressively to national and international groups.”

New committee much more than agriculture

Mark Lynn and Mike Libs were named chair and vice chair, respectively, in the order. Lynn has served as chair of the KSFB board since January 2013, telling Insider Louisville at the time that the board needed to dig out of a financial hole. The board dealt with losing both Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom, which closed due to the parent company’s bankruptcy in February 2010, and Louisville men’s and women’s basketball, which moved downtown to the KFC Yum! Center in 2010.

The two attractions lost a combined $3.7 million per year for the board from 2010 through 2013. The amusement park, adjacent to the fairgrounds, reopened as Kentucky Kingdom in May 2014.

Lynn owns a chain of 55 eye care centers called Visionworld and is also a large donor to the University of Louisville, donating $5 million as the named sponsor of the Cardinal’s $15 million Lynn Stadium for soccer.

Vice chair Libs has served since the organizational changes occurred in October, previously serving as a county clerk and on the governor’s transition team.

NAILE board members shaken

After all the changes that occurred over the past two years, NAILE executive committee member Jim Rudolph told Wave3 News, “To pull this North American off in 2015 is going to take almost a miracle.”

The new NAILE chair, as KSFB president and CEO, is Rip Rippetoe. NAILE general manager Corrine Fetter resigned as Kentucky’s director of expositions shortly after the order, according to Farm and Dairy. Additionally, NAILE’s first general manager, Harold Workman, who continued as vice chair of the executive committee was asked to drop his role, as was founder Jack Ragsdale, the NAILE committee’s previous chair.

Farm and Dairy reports that the moves were made public as letters were sent to livestock owners and members of the media in August, written by former NAILE media operations director, Claude Brock, and supporters Gordon and Anne Patton Schubert.

“Survival of the North American International Livestock Exposition may be in doubt,” the letters said, according to Farm and Dairy.

NAILE has been losing over $500,000 each year since 2008, but its parent fair board lost a combined $16 million in 2015 and 2016. NAILE lost $1.1 million in 2012, while the 2013 National Farm Machinery Show netted $7.2 million and the 2013 Kentucky State Fair brought in $582,000 net.

The Fair Board did cement its commitment to NAILE in a August 5 open letter, saying they are committed to “insuring (sic) continuity for the world’s largest purebred livestock exposition.” However, in their 2014-2016 Biennial Budget, the Fair Board only aims to reduce their operating deficit by fifty percent by increasing sponsorship revenue. The National Farm Machinery Show and State Fair have a combined 13 action items to increase profitability.

The 2015 NAILE is set to take place November 3-20.