Exclusive: South Carolina State Fair Has More Than $45.5M Impact

Richard Breen

Thursday, September 5th, 2019

The S.C. State Fair is an engine for more than $16.6 million in wages and a total economic impact of more than $45.5 million.

That’s a lot of corn dogs.

Those statistics come from a recent analysis of the fair done by Drs. Tom Regan and Haylee Mercado from the University of South Carolina Department of Sport and Entertainment Management. The study also determined the fair generates nearly $3.8 million in federal tax revenue and more than $2.5 million in state and local taxes each year.

“The fair is the largest event in the state,” said Nancy Smith, general manager. “We have exhibitors from every county in the state of South Carolina.”

Smith said she hopes to use data from the study to attract additional corporate partners. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the fair, which will take place Oct. 9-20 at the fairgrounds south of downtown Columbia.

Fair attendance was a record 443,000 in 2018 despite the fact that it was shut down for a day due to Hurricane Michael. Smith said she’s hoping for an increase of 8-10% this year.

Along with the financial analysis, the study included surveys of fairgoers. Surveys revealed an overall satisfaction level of 5.89 on a 1-7 scale.

“I’ve done a lot of these events,” said Regan, who has studied everything from NASCAR races to professional tennis. “These numbers are high.”

A majority of fairgoers surveyed had annual household incomes of more than $100,000.

“The household incomes are much higher than you would think,” Regan said.

Less surprising was the fact that a majority of attendees had been coming to the fair for more than five years.

“The fair is really a tradition,” Smith said.

Satisfaction with the fair’s overall value was 5.91. A separate analysis done by the vacation rental search engine HomeToGo determined South Carolina’s fair was the sixth best value of all state fairs in the country.

Traffic and parking satisfaction ranged from 4.4 to 5.4. This year, the fair is teaming with the Comet bus system for a shuttle that will run between the fairgrounds and S.C. Museum. Rides will be free and those who take Comet to the fair will receive a $5 concession food voucher.

Survey respondents reflected a statewide footprint from Hilton Head to Myrtle Beach to Oconee County. Out-of-state attendees came from as far away as Louisiana and West Virginia.

The fair has 21 year-round, full-time employees.

“When the fair comes, that swells to 600,” Smith said. The 600 doesn’t count carnival, concessions or cleaning personnel.

The overall statewide economic output of $45,506,736 includes trickle-down effects when money spent at and by the fair works its way through the community, as well as money spent by fairgoers at other places while in town for the event.

“The most significant impact is in Richland County and Lexington County,” Regan said.

In addition to the fair itself, the fairgrounds hosts other events throughout the year, such as the annual Palmetto Sportsmen’s Classic.

“We have longstanding events,” Smith said. “The fair’s a tradition, but some of our facility rentals are traditions as well.”

The fairgrounds are also home to a significant number of USC football tailgaters each year (Williams-Brice Stadium is across the street). This summer, the fairgrounds also hosted a free, outdoor movie night.

“It’s another way to bring attention,” Smith said.

It also plans to host a viewing of holiday lights in December. A circuit of displays will be set up on the grounds, with visitors paying $20 per carload to ride through.

“You’ll be moving at five miles an hour,” Smith said. “It’s going to take about 20 minutes to go through it.”

In 2020, Smith will serve as chairwoman of the International Association of Fairs & Expositions, whose membership represents more than 1,100 fairs.

The fair is a private nonprofit that does not receive taxpayer funding. Proceeds from the fair support $300,000 in scholarships, which are awarded to students throughout the state.