The general manager for the Lloydminster Agricultural Exhibition Association says agricultural societies are falling through the cracks when it comes to COVID support.
Jenelle Saskiw says there’s been no word from either provincial governments when it comes to financial help for agriculture societies. The Exhibition primarily makes money through events held at their grounds, but with no events happening since March the Exhibition is losing money.
“With zero revenue coming in and us having to maintain our fixed costs of operation, as you can imagine, we’re running out of money.”
She says their operating budget is about $125,000 a month and their dwindling reserves may be able to last for another six months. She says they continue to make efficiencies throughout the organization, but without bridge funding they may have to close their doors. While some smaller fair grounds will be able to survive on smaller events such as steak nights, Saskiw says they are too large for that to be economically viable.
As a non-profit, they also don’t qualify for several of the business-related federal emergency wage subsidy programs.
The Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions (CAFE) is asking the federal government for a total of $74 million to support fairs and exhibitions grounds across the country. The request is for $49 million for supporting the 733 societies in Canada to May 2021. Another $25 million would go towards the top 10 biggest exhibitions such as the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto.
The Exhibition runs about 800 to 900 events per year and since the pandemic precautions we’re put in place they’ve had most of their events cancelled. Saskiw says the future remains a mystery if they can’t hold events with the current pandemic regulations in place. She says another gap in the system is that agricultural societies were not factored into the reopening plans.
“The other thing that’s a little bit frustrating is that nobody has sat down and brought us in as a partner in terms of the re-entry plans for doing business. It’s frustrating when you look around and restaurants are able to operate, casinos can operate and sports teams are gathering and yet nobody has allowed us to have any expansion on how many people we can have in our facility.”
Some organizers are still wary of holding an event as the current gathering limits the association to host a maximum of 30 people. Saskiw is confident they can provide a safe space for people if gathering limits are increased.
“I think it would be safe to say there’s probably not as many safety protocols followed on a private property as there would be in our facility. We would like to say that we are the safe alternative and would rather see a controlled environment within our building than watching all these events going on on private property.”
She says the city will see a definitive economic impact if the Exhibition isn’t able to continue. Last year, events held at the Exhibition brought in $470 million to the Lloydminster region as well as hired nearly 200 part-time employees.
“Not only that, but we are also a catalyst. If we hold our event, the people that attend our event need to stay in hotels in our area, eat at restaurants in our area or use our gas stations. We have such an economic spin off from the functions that we hold.”
Saskiw says they will continue to be creative and are in the process of creating a fundraising committee to help find unique ways to get the community involved in keeping the Exhibition going within Lloydminster.