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Region’s business products should have a place at the fair

For those who are fans of neither rides nor food of dubious nutritional content, there is still plenty to like and enjoy at the Puyallup Fair – especially if you have some curiosity about what your agriculturally inclined and artistically talented friends and neighbors have been up to the last year.

From truck-sized pumpkins to achingly gorgeous quilts, from teens maneuvering horses with the deftness that many can’t accomplish even on a bicycle, to flowers that make casual gardeners scold their own plants – “Why can’t you grow like that?” – the fair is a terrific salute to skills and hard work that otherwise might not get much attention.

Fairs such as The Puyallup are agricultural showcases of the past and present, and that’s something we should never lose. But there’s a missing component to what fairs show us, something that is a part of their heritage and ought to be part of their future.

Like many fairs, The Puyallup has multiple buildings devoted to what are termed “commercial exhibits.” But step inside and what you find are rows of merchants hawking cookware or miracle cleaning products.

Those have their place; if no one cared about them the aisles wouldn’t be jammed with people carting away merchandise. The revenue generated by booth-space rental is likely no small matter in keeping the fair financially viable.

Even so, that’s no more a reflection of what’s going on in the “commercial” sector of our region than deep-fried Kool-Aid is representative of Western Washington’s agricultural capabilities.

So as the crews sweep up the last pieces of litter and dismantle the temporary infrastructure necessary to stage this year’s fair, let’s offer up a Modest Proposal for incorporating the accomplishments of our commercial sector in coming years.

There was a time when fairs celebrated the industrial and mechanical as much as the agricultural. Certain types of fairs still do: World’s fairs. Seattle will next year commemorate the 50th anniversary of a world’s fair that had as its theme the celebration of all the wonders to come in the 21st century.

But world’s fairs are occasional events at best, and have been losing favor for their cost to put on or visit (not enough deep-fried food?). Today the best displays of the newest and coolest in the industrial world can be found at trade shows, where attendance is limited to those already in those businesses.

Local and regional fairs, however, are an ideal venue for letting local companies show off the products they’re developing or have introduced to market. Have Boeing roll out a cross-section of a composite-fiber fuselage or models of its planes. Ask one of the region’s boat yards to lend for temporary display one of the cool new work boats, even a piece of one, they’re producing.

These needn’t be staffed displays that chew up a lot of money and employee time. But if local Granges can come up with elaborate displays of what they’ve grown and harvested, local companies, even the smallest, can throw together models, illustrations, prototypes and finished goods to illustrate everything from fantasy concepts to products that have actually made it to market.

What would the companies get? Some good marketing and public relations, an opportunity to build connections with the community and a chance to show off a bit. What would fairgoers get? Another attraction to check out. What would The Fair get? Another attraction with which to draw visitors.

Somewhere on the fairgrounds there must be a corner to shoehorn in an exhibit area of what the region’s inventors, designers, mechanics, tinkerers, developers and researchers are up to that tells the story as effectively as ag’s story is currently explained. They deserve to have their same moment basking in the public sun as the quilters and pumpkin growers now enjoy.

Bill Virgin is editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News. He can be reached at