New CEO of the State Fair previews the Great Minnesota Get-Together
Keeping the 160+ year tradition going
Recently, the Minnesota Chamber held its annual Women in Business Conference, this year featuring the new CEO of the Minnesota State Fair, Renee Alexander! Jill Renslow of Mall of America hosted an interesting conversation that ranged from Renee's leadership journey to becoming CEO, what she's focusing on for her first year leading the Fair, and what food theme fairgoers can expect this summer.
Renee Alexander, CEO, Minnesota State Fair
Jill Renslow: Tell us about getting your start at the Fair.
Renee Alexander: It's a tremendous responsibility and a tad bit terrifying, I'll be honest. I actually started as an intern. I was going into my senior year of college at UW River Falls in 1989 and was looking for a summer internship. A friend of mine from college had a relative, they were looking for somebody in the sales department...I interviewed for that position for the summer, and I was not hired, but my resume was passed along to the woman who was in charge of all the free entertainment.
I met with her and we just hit it off and I was hired for that summer. The story I like to tell is the Friday before the Fair, I was in my office and I had a highwire walker, I had an elephant trainer and I met the man who runs the carnival. And I was hooked.
JR: How do you maintain those long-time traditions that families have and generations have at the Minnesota State Fair, but also challenge yourself to find those fresh, innovative ideas to really challenge the world that we live in and what people are expecting from you?
RA: When you have a 160+ year history, you know you want to make sure you honor that and you keep those traditions. We really look at ourselves as stewards. The Fair belongs to the people of Minnesota. This is their Fair, and there's a tremendous sense of pride in it, and we honor that. And so knowing that you don't mess with some traditions but we really kind of look at it as an 80-20 rule. So it's, you know, kind of 20% every year we're kind of, you know, you know, moving things around or doing things a little different. It's always something we're challenging ourselves to kind of change that programming and making sure we're remaining relevant. But again, don't mess with some of those traditions.
JR: What are some of the things that are on your radar that you're focused on as you look ahead?
RA: I think it's always about improving that guest experience and, and the experience with, and when I say guest, I mean everyone from our vendors to our volunteers, to our seasonal staff, our neighbors. Just making sure that everyone that has some sort of touchpoint with the fair feels like they were treated well and with respect and are valued because we, we need them all to make it, to make it happen. It truly does take a village.
Keeping with the Fair theme, Women in Business attendees were treated to Summit beer samples and bacon-on-a-stick during a break at the Women in Business Conference.
JR: The Fair has a significant economic impact for the state of Minnesota. Can you share some numbers with us of what that economic impact is and how you're looking at that into the future?
RA: The last time we did an economic Im impact study was in 2018, and the seven-county metro area impact was $268 million. So it's significant.
JR: You are looking for employees in a short amount of time. You have a lot of vendors. You have 2 million people to accommodate. You want to deliver a good guest experience. What is your plan this year?
RA: We have 80 full-time staff. We ramp up, we add probably another 100, 150 throughout the summer. Then by Fair time, we're at 3,000. One of the most amazing things is we see about a 50% return rate on those 12-day employees. The amount of people that come back year after year once they've kind of gotten a taste for it is fantastic.
JA: Fill us in on what we can expect to see as a culinary expert and kind of filling us in on what us fairgoers that love food at the Fair and beverages what we can see and what maybe some of the trends are that you're seeing this year and for years to come.
RA: We announced 34 new foods, we have seven new vendors this year. We have about 300 vendors that sell food and beverage. It's the year of the pickle. There was a lot of things about dill pickle, I think last year. The success of the pickle pizza is certainly rolling into this year. Just to kind of share the process of how those foods are selected. We have a new foods committee and the food vendors submit. Not everything that is submitted is selected to be part of the new foods announced. It's, it's something that's curated. I think we really look at it. I mean, you're going have some of the deep fried crazy goodness, but a lot of it is restaurant-quality food that just happens to be served in a paper boat.
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Interested in other Women in Business events?
Join us at our next Women in Business on September 15 at Post Consumer Brands!
We can all learn from the success of Minnesota businesses. From their start to their continued innovation and growth. How do they build on their successful brands to stay ahead of economic challenges? In this session, come hear from female members of their executive team about their recipe for success. Women in Business is a quarterly series designed to engage women business leaders in public policy. It’s an excellent opportunity for women – and men – to network with their peers while learning the importance of issues critical to growing a business and the state’s economy. Programs are entertaining, enlightening and educational.