The Kansas State Fair Board decided Tuesday to begin the process of finding an interim general manager next month with the goal of replacing Susan Sankey before the state fair in September.
Sankey, the fair’s general manager for two years, announced Monday she would leave effective Jan. 31 for a position with the Kansas 4-H Foundation. An executive committee will choose an interim general manager at a February meeting, the board voted. A permanent general manager will be hired later this year after “a lengthy process,” said board president Virginia Crossland-Macha.
“(Working with Sankey) has been a great experience,” she said.
Board members unanimously approved a motion commending Sankey for her time with the Kansas State Fair.
The board will issue a call for applicants and hire an outside human resources firm to vet resumes in March, Crossland-Macha said. A firm timeline for hiring an new general manager hasn’t been set, but she said she was hopeful one would be chosen before this summer.
“We like to let process work,” she said. “Sometimes somebody rises to the top if you continue to let that work.”
The decision to leave was hard, Sankey said, but joining the 4-H Foundation as director of development was “a great opportunity.” Sankey participated in various 4-H activities for 10 years while growing up in south Texas, she said.
“This is very close to my heart,” she said.
She began working for the Kansas State Fair in 2014 as director of competitions and moved into the general manager role in 2016. Sankey said the growth of youth livestock shows during her time with the fair stood out as one of her proudest achievements. Last year, fiber-optic network lines were installed on the perimeter of the fairgrounds, a move that would help fair ticketing and sales move to digital, she said.
“When you look at where fairs might be in 20 years, there’s the chance we’ll be paperless,” Sankey said. “Look at how we use phones now for payment. Mobile access will be vital to being a progressive fair.”
During the two years Sankey managed the fair, it saw record high and low crowds. In 2016, the 359,808 people who attended was the second highest in at least 40 years, and last year’s 322,278 was the lowest since 2001. The state fair’s five-year average is 353,652, according to studies for the Kansas Department of Agriculture.
Sankey contributed the decrease of nearly 30,000 attendees to digital ticket counting. In previous years, the fair weighed tickets manually to estimate attendance, but last year tickets were scanned digitally, providing a more accurate count. Exhibit and contest entry revenue remained strong, she said.
“We were able to maintain or saw increases, so it wouldn’t make sense for our attendance to be woefully different,” she said.
Revenue figures from the 2017 fair likely won’t be finalized until March, Crossland-Macha said.