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Leaders of Tomorrow: Courtny Conkle

Author: William Rohrs
November, 2017 Issue

 

Courtny Conkle, acting chief executive officer of the Sonoma-Marin Fair and exhibits manager of the Lake County Fair started in the state institutions early in life. In fact, it was about as early as early can be.

“I was born at a fair,” she says. “My mother went into labor, and the fair manager did everything in their power to get her comfortable and safely deliver me. I’m a fair child!”

This wasn’t the point where Conkle was recognized the youngest CEO of a state operated fair; that accolade would come when she accepted the post at just 21 years old.

Her first responsibility is the proper allocation of resources. “Funding for fairs was cut entirely from the state budget in 2011; since then, we do everything we can at the state level to ensure a sustainable future for the fair

industry while community support is what keeps our gates open,” she says. “And that means there are guidelines for what I can and cannot spend money on. Wages are one of the biggest concerns; I can’t change what the state or the county mandates; I can’t provide bonuses or other financial incentives that a private industry would be able to offer; and its highly seasonal work that just so happens to coincide when schools start opening up again. Finding skilled labor during this time is a treasure hunt; you hang onto whoever can do the job well.”

Finding entertainment that matches the interest of the fair’s audience is another difficult task, but Conkle has help with some veteran staff members when searching for talent. “Our talent manager works differently from the usual ‘set listing, see who applies’ method when we hire talent,” she says. “We tell him our budget, and he provides us a menu of entertainers willing to work for that price. One year, we managed to get the Beach Boys here for senior’s day; a few years back, we had Smash Mouth play for the younger crowd.”

Conkle’s community involvement doesn’t end at the fair. “In Lake County, the fair is such a binder for the local organizations, you can’t help but get involved in other areas,” she says. “I’m an active member of the California Women for Agriculture, Kiwanis Club, Lions Club, the Lake County Theater Company, the Arts Council and I recently joined our local chapter of Rotary. It’s a tightknit community; the more involved you are with them the more they get involved with the fair.

“The work I do takes me everywhere. If I’m not in Texas at a conference with fair CEOS, I’m at Vegas at a business mixer. I rarely have time to catch a breath at home (or do my laundry). I have seven Navy blue blazers, and many others in every color imaginable. It’s a huge responsibility, but it’s where I want to be. I love the world I live in.”

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