O.C. Fair serves up temporary jobs

COSTA MESA — On top of serving deep-fried treats, games, outdoor concerts and carnival rides, the Orange County Fair generates more than 3,000 summertime jobs, fair officials said.

The 2011 fair, which opens Friday at the Orange County Fairgrounds and runs Wednesdays through Sundays until Aug. 14, hires about 1,200 new temporary employees, said Steve Beazley, OC Fair & Event Center chief executive and president.

In addition, a multiplier effect of spending and activity produced by the fair's thousands of visitors and employees generates the equivalent of another 2,112 jobs, according to a report by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

The labor income from those jobs is more than $75 million annually, according to the report.

"The fair is much like a military base in which it fosters merchants and spending all around it," Beazley said, adding that fair merchants and vendors travel with about 2,000 staff of their own who need places to recreate during their off-hours.

"The fair is closed Monday and Tuesday, so all those people are going to need something to do and are going go out and spend money at local businesses," he said.

State and local sales taxes, transient occupancy fees, possessory interest taxes and other business levies amount to almost $3 million annually, according to the report.

To illustrate just how big of a moneymaker the fair is for the OC Fair & Event Center, Beazley pointed to the $23 million in revenue generated in less than five weeks — more than 75% of its $30-million annual operating revenue.

The surge of income is the "make or break" point for the fairgrounds, which gets no additional funding from the state, Beazley said.

Regulation of the fair falls under the 32nd District Agricultural Assn., a state entity within the Food and Agriculture Department's Division of Fairs and Expositions.

"In some ways, we have to act as a government entity but still sustain ourselves as entrepreneurs," Beazley said.

Each year, all of the fair's profits — about $3 million to $4 million — are reinvented "dollar by dollar" into the fairgrounds infrastructure and community programs, Beazley said.

California has a network of 80 fairs, 54 of which are considered government entities under District Agricultural Assns., according to the state Department of Food and Agriculture website.

Those fairs produce about $2.5 billion in economic activity for the local, state and global economy.

"The belief is that fairs are not essential services," Beazley said on running the fairgrounds as a self-sustaining operation. "It's considered recreation for the community. I think that the expectation is that if it fails, if it can't make it on its own, then the community is not accepting of its products and services."

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