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Community prepares for new farm show

POSTED January 19, 2012 5:11 p.m.
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DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune/

The Great Bend Expo Complex sits empty, but com...

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Putting on a farm show every year is a daunting task, but Darren Dale is up to the challenge, thanks to all the local help he’s received.
“It is really very humbling to see the local support of all those involved,” he said Thursday afternoon. Dale is an expo promoter and owner of Star Enterprises of Bird City and already manages shows in McCook, Neb., and Wichita Falls and Montague County, Texas.
The inaugural Great Bend Farm and Ranch Expo is set for Wednesday through Friday, April 11-13, at the Great Bend Expo Complex.
It took just a light breeze to make the 21 degrees outside at the Expo facility to slice through his suit jacket as the cowboy hat-clad Dale surveyed the location west of town. There was a new earthen loading dock and access road and other improvements to better accommodate exhibitors.
This is good. “We are 90 percent full,” he said. He is shooting for 500 vendors, but even as it stands down, “this will be one of the largest farm and ranch expos in the United States.”
He has a March 1 deadline to reserve booth space, but said he’s flexible. “I will accommodate anyone anytime.”
“Agriculture is extremely strong right now across the board,” Dale said, adding the show will reflect this optimism. Shows like the one in Great Bend give ag producers an opportunity to see the latest in farming and ranching, all in one location.
In addition, he said, there are no other expos at the same time and it is at an ideal time for farmers before spring planting. The show will be marketed in a 1,000-mile radius, bringing in exhibitors from 25 states and Canada, via a website and social media sites. “We foresee this show growing and growing every year.”
The Great Bend show will regularly be set for early April. 
Dale was in Great Bend Thursday and today to meet with the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce Great Bend Farm and Ranch Expo Committee. The group held its first full meeting Thursday morning.
“We’re just really excited for this year,” said Jan Westfall, committee chairperson. “We’re also excited for the community and look forward to the future.”
It was announced in mid July of last year the 3i Show would no longer come to town every other year. Eddie Estes, chief executive officer of the Western Kansas Manufacturers’ Association which sponsors 3i, said he his show will no longer alternate between Barton County and Garden City. Instead, starting this year, it will permanently be held in Dodge City, where the WKMA is based.
“It was time for us to move in a different direction,” said Jan Peters, president of the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce, after the announcement in July. For more than 25 years, Great Bend served as the biennial home of 3i.
“The 3i Show is one of the most successful farm shows in the region,” Peters said. That was due to the volunteers , community partners and business owners that pitched in and “worked countless hours.”
But, “time and time again we heard from exhibitors that they loved our facilities,” she said. What’s more, “they had such great praises for our community” due to the hospitality.
This is why the chamber wanted to keep some sort of ag-related show in Great Bend.
Peters said local officials in March offered a contract to Estes to keep 3i in Great Bend, which he rejected. At that time, a task force was formed to find a replacement.
Two companies approached Great Bend. One of those was Star Enterprises.
Task force members liked what they saw in Dale, Peters said. By April, things were in place. 
Even before the 57th 3i Show closed May 13, 2011, in Garden City, there were rumors Estes would change the show’s location.
 The 3i Show typically attracted over 500 vendors and required an army of over 200 local volunteers. 
As for the community, it is estimated the new expo will bring $2.5 million into the community annually, instead of every other year. Historically, 3i created an economic boom by filling motels, restaurants and other businesses.
 The decision to move 3i was based on exhibitor feedback, and crop schedules, other farm show dates, holidays, school events, and other annual community and state events already on the calendar, Estes said.

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