Dubbed the largest all-breed, purebred livestock exposition in the world, the 42-year-old North American International Livestock Exposition (NAILE) now appears to be on shaky ground. In recent years, politics, money, egos and lack of a long-term vision threaten to potentially derail the Louisville, Ky., fall classic. While this year's 18-day show will go on as planned, level heads and consensus will need to prevail to shore up future editions.
During the past four decades, the Kentucky State Fair Board that governed NAILE once had equal representation from agriculture and nonagricultural interests. That balance netted some $16 million in economic activity to the region as 150,000 to 225,000 visitors attend in any given year. As a result, NAILE even outranked the Kentucky State Fair in economic impact and stood second only to the well-attended National Farm Machinery Show for Kentucky State Fair Board revenue.

Not satisfied with the status quo, it appears that Louisville-area businesses and political interests have gained the upper hand. That story began unfolding when decisions were made to build the new Louisville Cardinals' sports arena downtown as opposed to rebuilding it on the current metroplex site that is home to events such as NAILE.

In the aftermath, the Commonwealth of Kentucky had to step in and shore up a $10 million budget shortfall for the Kentucky State Fair Board, reported the Louisville-based Courier-Journal. That may raise eyebrows for those outside the Bluegrass State, but when you weave in the fact that the Commonwealth owns the Kentucky State Fair, NAILE and controls Fair Board appointments, the situation makes more sense.

While Commonwealth politicians generally maintained a hands-off approach toward these successful ag-based events, run in a bipartisan manner, that is no longer the case. In the past three years, retirements, resignations and unrenewed employment contracts essentially mean this year's NAILE will run as a "new franchise" with minimal carryover in veteran leadership. Additionally, an executive order by Kentucky's governor removing two longtime contributing board members, closed door Fair Board meetings, and an expanded Fair Board filled with more governor appointments have eroded morale amongst many longtime NAILE volunteers. The condition of the aging facilities is another concern.

For dairy leaders, events like the All American Jersey Show, 4-H Dairy Quiz Bowl, dairy cattle judging contests and 12 additional breed shows hang in the balance. There was a time in the 1960s in which no one could conceive the grand National Dairy Cattle Congress would fail. Because of lost vision, that event met its Waterloo . . . will NAILE eventually suffer the same fate?

This editorial appears on page 532 of the August 25, 2015 issue of Hoard's Dairyman.

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