Workman: Ringmaster of the Fairgrounds A
Key Player in State's Economic Future
by Haven Miller
It was June 21, 1973. Kentucky Gov. Wendell Ford had invited
reporters to a news conference in Louisville for an exciting
announcement. He had secured $50,000 to start a major livestock
show at Kentucky's Fair & Exposition Center. The show would
open the following year on Nov. 17 and would be called the North
American Livestock Exposition. The governor predicted its impact
on the state would be big.
By early 1974, the show's organizing committee knew an event
of this caliber would require a director who could rise to the
challenge, a unique individual who knew the state's livestock
industry and its leaders, and someone who had a gift for organizing
and producing shows. They also needed someone who had a solid
reputation for getting the job done right.
Where would they find such a multi-talented individual?
He was right
in front of them, a young man already working for the shows
and fairs division of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
He was College of Agriculture alum Harold Workman, and the committee
quickly hired him to, literally, "run the show."
28 years ago, and Gov. Ford's prediction came true. The North
American quickly gained a reputation for excellence, and following
the demise of the renowned Chicago Livestock International,
it added the word "International" to its title to
reflect its worldwide stature. Today, the economic impact of
the show on Louisville and the commonwealth is enormous.
Workman, still getting the job done right, is now president
and CEO of the Kentucky State Fair Board, the organization that
oversees the North American, the Kentucky State Fair, the National
Farm Machinery Show, the FFA National Convention and all other
major events associated with the Kentucky Fair & Exposition
Center. He also oversees the Kentucky International Convention
the journey has been one of remarkable personal growth and professional
we host local events, regional events, national events and world
events, and between here and our downtown facility we'll do
between 4,000 and 5,000 event days a year because we do multiple
events," said Workman, who smiles when he tells people
he has basically had only one job since he graduated from UK
in 1969 with a degree in animal sciences. (He was elected to
the Animal Sciences Hall of Fame in 1995.)
1985 the state legislature moved the North American from the
Department of Agriculture to the Fair Board, so essentially
I've never changed jobs. I've just meandered around the system
to the position I'm in today. And I can tell you truthfully
that I've never dreaded coming to work any day of my entire
career," he said.
of the job takes on special significance when you pause to consider
the magnitude of his responsibility. As Fair Board president
and CEO, Workman is the driving energy behind an operation with
a budget that has grown from $18 million when he took the reins
in 1993 to $38 million today. At the fairgrounds alone, he oversees
a million square feet of exhibit space. A recently-completed
economic impact study showed the Fair Board generates about
$450 million annually for the state, up from $180 million 10
he assumed his present job as CEO, he really filled about three
jobs," said Louisville businessman Roy Gibson, who is also
a UK ag alum ('57) and a longtime friend of Workman's. "He's
director of the fairgrounds, manager of the North American,
and manager of the downtown convention center, and I think he
does it better than any three people."
career path had its beginnings on his family's 200-acre farm
in Livingston County where he lived with his parents, Denny
and Laverne, his brother Don, and his sister Charlotte. The
farm produced beef cattle, hay, and corn. When Harold was 15
his father died, and he recalls it as a time when family responsibilities
took priority over other activities, such as participation in
high school sports.
we had responsibilities on the farm, and there really wasn't
time to do both, so we chose to take care of what fed us and
kept us going," he said.
In high school Harold joined FFA, and credits that organization
and two teachers with having a great impact on his life.
had a strong FFA chapter and were always involved in state contests
and state conventions, and Alan Middleton and Ray Fowler were
excellent teachers who had a real influence on me," he
and FFA forming an early foundation, it isn't surprising that
Harold chose to pursue higher education in agriculture. In the
fall of 1964 he enrolled in UK's College of Agriculture and
soon gained part-time work at the College's research farms.
worked at the swine barn under Ted Cathy initially, then later
at the nutrition barn with Dr. Easton,who was the vet, and I
also worked for a while in the beef cattle operation at Coldstream,"
Workman said. "Being an animal science major was already
in my mind in terms of what I wanted to do. My advisor was Dr.
Frank Buck, who was a great guy, down to earth, and always had
a way of understanding the student's viewpoint. He had a big
influence on me."
UK gave Workman his first experience at managing a big event.
was an officer in the Block & Bridle Club and was manager
of its horse show for three or four years," he said. He
also was a member of the livestock judging team, an experience
that offered him travel opportunities and the chance to enhance
his speaking ability and confidence.
"I enjoyed my time in college, and didn't know how much
I enjoyed it until I was out," he said.
UK years Workman had been keeping in touch with Ray Fowler,
who had left his teaching job to join the shows and fairs division
of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. Harold would drop
by Frankfort from time to time to visit Fowler, and on one of
the visitswhich not coincidentally came just after his
graduation in 1969he filled out a job application. Unfortunately
there were no openings.
in early fall I got a call from the director of Shows &
Fairs, Wallace Rich, asking me if I was still interested. I
said I was, and on the 16th of September I started with them,
working the district heifer shows and beef shows across the
state," recalled Workman. During the next few years he
worked with a wide variety of peoplefarmers, ag teachers,
Extension agents, young people, and livestock leaders from one
end of Kentucky to the other. He organized the shows, was on-site
producer, kept the show records, and issued the checks.
know it at the time, but he was steadily assembling the unique
portfolio of professional credentials that would lead him to
his present position as one of the most influential business
voices in the commonwealth, a man respected by ag and non-ag
leaders alike as well as colleagues and employees.
employees have tremendous respect for him because he came up
through the ranks, he knows what their jobs entail, the stresses
and strains," said Mary Anne Cronan, Louisville businesswoman
and Fair Board chairman. "Harold is a very effective problem
solver, and he has the ability to look at things, see what is
really happening, and head in the right direction."
has really become one of the key figures in both Kentucky agriculture
and the Louisville economy," said M. Scott Smith, dean
of the College of Agriculture. "He is widely and deeply
respected by the leaders of this state for his organizational
and management skills and for his progressive vision of Kentucky
credits his open-door management style and ability to hire top-notch
employees for much of his success. Those who know him also credit
his no-nonsense approach, his ability to see the big picture,
and his skill at handling the unpredictable.
is one of those people who can take what some think is a potentially
alarming situation and put it in perspective," said Mary
Anne Cronan. "He's one of those cup-half-full people, always
takes a reasoned approach, and always has a Plan B. He's also
extremely fair minded and values people."
"On the job he sometimes has to be firm and serious, but
he's also a very caring person, and success has not changed
the way he treats people one bit," said Louisville businessman
Although his roots are in agriculture, Workman's activities
nowadays stretch across a wide spectrum of community and economic
development. As a member of several of Louisville's more influential
boards, he occupies a unique position among the city's leaders,
a position that gives him a window seat to Louisville's burgeoning
Fair Board is a major economic engine for the Commonwealth,"
said Board Chairman Cronan. "Harold has brought us to where
we are today, and I don't know how much people realize what
has happened over the years. He has taken every situation and
turned it into a positive and productive approach and has put
us where we are today."
UK gave Workman his first experience at managing a big
"I was an officer in the Block & Bridle Club and
was manager of its horse show for three or four years,
Agriculture is a fairgrounds superstar
Although the Kentucky State Fair Board oversees a wide variety
of concerts, sports events, and conventions, agriculture remains
a vital part of its history and present-day activities. From
its celebrated Saddle & Sirloin portrait collection of ag
luminaries that lines the walls of West Hall to its involvement
in some of ag's biggest shows, the Board maintains strong ties
don't favor one group over another, certainly not, but if you
look at the Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center, it was built
with a strong influence from the agricultural community,"
said Harold Workman, president and CEO of the Kentucky Fair
Board. "If you look at our Board, nearly half of the members,
including Dean Scott Smith of UK, represent a specific agricultural
Faculty, staff, and students from our UK College of Agriculture
and Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve in a myriad
of capacities at many of the Fair Board's largest events, helping
with everything from exhibits to judging. FFA and 4-H members
from across the state, often traveling with parents and adult
leaders, participate in dozens of animal, crop, food preparation,
technology, and other ag-related projects and competitions.
"The partnership between the UK Cooperative Extension Service
and the KFEC (Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center) is definitely
a symbiotic relationship," said George Heersche, UK dairy
specialist and veteran of 25 Kentucky state fairs and North
Americans. "I've logged a lot of hours working with the
good folks of KFEC, and have always found them to be cooperative,
professional, competent, and productive."
the years our association with the Fair Board has been excellent,"
said Larry Turner, associate dean for Extension. "The relationship
between our college and the many events of the Kentucky Fair
& Exposition Center is an important one that dates back
many years, and we anticipate that relationship continuing well
into the future."
Here are a few examples of the many Fair Board events that impact
American International Livestock Exposition More than
200,000 people attend this storied event, which is recognized
as the largest purebred livestock show in the world. In addition
to livestock, technology is becoming an important part of
the show's production. Total entries for all categories have
now surpassed 20,000.
State Fair More than 650,000 people attend this time-honored
event. In 2001 the fair welcomed its 25 millionth visitor
since making the Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center its
permanent home in 1956. More than 8,000 exhibitors make their
way to the fair each year. General entries total about 31,600,
livestock entries are about 10,500, and horse show entries
total more than 6,500.
Farm Machinery Show More than a quarter million people
from around the globe travel to this event, which enjoys a
long association with the College of Agriculture and Department
of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering. More than 700
exhibitors fill the facility each year with products and technology
that comprise one of the most comprehensive displays of farming
equipment in the world.
FFA Convention A sea of blue jackets arrived in Kentucky
again this fall. Some 47,000 attendees, including 42,000 students
from over 7,000 chapters, gathered in Louisville to celebrate
FFA's 75th national convention. More than 350 businesses,
corporations, and universities set up displays for this premiere
Alums Make State's Biggest Shows Happen
Energy, creativity, working with people, and adapting quickly
to a changing environment: these are just some of the qualities
needed to manage three of the largest shows in the state, and
the nation. These are the qualities possessed by UK ag alums
Corinne (Phillips) Fetter, '91, animal sciences, and David Snider,
'71, animal sciences.
As director of expositions for the Kentucky State Fair Board,
Fetter coordinates three of the board's main shows: the North
American International Livestock Expo, the Kentucky State Fair,
and the National Farm Machinery Show. It's a huge responsibility,
but the Mason County native loves the challenge.
of the things I like most about the job is the satisfaction
of being able to showcase the best of the best, whether it's
at the State Fair with people of all ages involved, or at the
other shows, which draw people from around the world,"
manager for the North American, David Snider joins Fetter in
making sure every puzzle piece from tables to technologyis
in place when the Fair & Exposition Center's doors swing
wide on opening day. The task is daunting, but Snider said the
work fits his skills perfectly.
"I started out in 4-H at 10 years old, then went into FFA,
then went on to UK and was involved in all the judging teams
from meats to livestock," said the Bullitt County native.
"From the git-go, I knew I wanted to go to UK, and I knew
I wanted to be involved in agriculture. I did other jobs before
I came here in 1980, but this job fit me like a glove."
Both Snider and Fetter recall their time in the College of Agriculture
as some of the best days of their lives.
"The professors were great, people like Dr. Frank Buck
and Dr. Bill Moody," said Snider. "Faculty and staff
there made you feel welcome. UK was a big place, and some of
the classes on campus there had 300 students in them, but the
ag college classes were smaller and more one-on-one. It was
a great experience."
"I'd say UK and the College of Agriculture touched me as
an individual from an early age," said Fetter. "My
dad, Larry Phillips, is an animal science graduate, and I became
a 4-H member at 9 years old. And as a student at the College,
I can say that the professors and advisors helped prepare me
personally and professionally to go out into the world and start
Fetter is also a graduate of the Philip Morris Leadership program
coordinated through the College of Agriculture.
"That was after I had been out of school for a while, and
I still felt that family atmosphere that accessibility of the
College's professors and staff and their willingness to help,"
It's not an exaggeration to say the jobs these two alums do
for the Fair Board and for the people of Kentucky require something
extra, something special. The person who knows this best is
the man they work for.
"Corinne and David are the kind of employees you can't
do without," said Harold Workman, Fair Board president
and CEO. "Corinne's job takes a lot organizational ability
and energy and talent in working with people. David's job takes
a wide variety of skills and computer know-how, and we couldn't
get the job done without him. They both do a wonderful job for
For today's agriculture students, Fetter and Snider offer advice
based on their own career paths and the lessons learned along
"Don't put blinders on," said Fetter. "If there's
an opportunity out there, you've got to start somewhere. On
my first job after college I found myself at one point managing
40 people on the night shift at a processing plant, but it helped
me grow and be a better person."
"Every experience will be a learning experience,"
said Snider. "Whatever comes along, if it interests you,
go ahead and try it and learn from it. And if it doesn't fit,
then move on. Take advantage of every opportunity you have."
Harold Workman thinks College of Ag alums David Snider, 71
(left), and Corinne Phillips Fetter, 91, are the
kind of employees you cant do without.