Jason Young’s reality can drastically change with the squawk of his walkie-talkie.
When it’s on, the busy chatter of needs and problems are audible, each to be assessed and addressed by Young, this year’s superintendent of operations at the Clark County Fair.
“We’ve got to start working on those fans soon – if you gotta pull someone off (of another duty),” he radioed to one of his employees. On Thursday, the day before the fair opened, the atmosphere was frenzied as employees hustled on foot or by motorized cart to get things in place. Livestock was making its way in, and the sun was beating down. People, and animals, needed the breeze the big fans could provide.
And that was just one of an avalanche of tasks. Time was of the essence, since crowds would soon make their way through the gates to ride rides, buy food, look at exhibits and do all of the things people do when they go to a county fair.
Young’s job — and he’s new to the role this year — is to make sure it all goes off without a hitch, though that’s not always possible.
“His job is like, 59 percent craziness, and the other part is insane,” said Grandstand Coordinator Michael Kelley, who has worked at the fairgrounds for 16 years.
Clark County Fair
17402 N.E. Delfel Road, Ridgefield
Number of employees: 145 on the operations staff, according to Jason Young, superintendent of operations.
Bureau of Labor Statistics job outlook: The bureau doesn’t track fair workers, but the occupation of meeting, convention and event planners is expected to grow 11 percent through 2026. “Job opportunities should be best for candidates with hospitality experience and a bachelor’s degree in meeting and event management, hospitality, or tourism management,” the bureau reports. The annual mean wage in the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, Ore., metropolitan area is $23.72 an hour or $49,340 annually.
“It’s about managing that and dispatching people to the right locations,” Young said. “Especially someone who knows how to do it. I can’t just send anyone from my temporary fair employees to go run a tractor. I usually rely on my full-time employees. Basically, a problem arises, and I figure out a solution.”
The Columbian caught up with the 36-year-old Gresham, Ore., native to get a glimpse into what he does for a living.
How did you find your way into this role?
I started with the fair in 2012. I worked for the security company that does all the events staffing and parking out here: Coast to Coast Events Services. I was the morning supervisor. They’re the ones that do all the bag checks at the gates and everything else at the grandstand. I did that for the fair from 2012 to 2014. In 2015, I moved outside and supervised the parking staff. In 2016, I took a job at the amphitheater working with facilities and operations, and so I took that year at the fair off. I stopped working at the amphitheater in March 2017. One of the event managers that was over here was getting ready to pursue other options. He thought I’d be a great person to take over his role. So I came in and worked as his assistant to the fair in 2017, and then he was done after the fair and I became an event manager.
Are things pretty chaotic?
It’s actually been chaotic for the last two weeks. That’s how it just kind of normally is. People come in (and) at once they need stuff. As much as you can try to plan this out throughout the whole year, what day’s on which, it sometimes doesn’t work out that way. Other things affect us such as the carnival coming in, or amphitheater concerts, because we can’t do anything as far as our setup goes outside of those lots. It’s never going to work out the way you want it to.
Are you ready?
I think we’re very ahead in a lot of areas and there’s small stuff in other areas and (stuff we) make sure we don’t forget. Picnic tables, yellow benches in other areas. I look out and wish we would’ve focused on cleaning a little more. It takes us about three months or so to prep the fair. Even though we are running the event center year-round, we start pulling things out for the fair in between that time. We start to pressure wash and get a lot of things we need set up and moved into place. We’ll start full bore after the 5th of July.
Is this a full-time position or seasonal?
This is full time for me. I’ve worked on this year-round. I even went down to a convention in San Antonio, Texas, which is the International Association of Fairs and Expositions. I work a lot with my boss on planning. We will start even now for the next fair, in 2020.
What would you say has been the biggest challenge? Have there been any big hiccups?
I think a lot of it is figuring out what positions are needed, and down to cleaning. After seeing it and visualizing it the first year then I’m able to make those adjustments and know what I’m working on. Everything has run pretty smoothly. One of the challenging things is running out of space. I do a lot of this layout on AutoCAD, which I learned from my previous boss. We have a huge fair map that has the dimensions of everything. Then I can put stuff there; tents, bleachers.
Did you do any schooling for event planning?
No. It’s something I call the School of Hard Knocks. I went to college for political science. I was going to go to school to become a lawyer. That had kind of fallen off because when you’re a college kid and you’d rather work and have money versus being broke and having to do that and eating Top Ramen.
What hopes do you have for this year’s fair, and going forward that you hope to try next year?
As far as it goes with the staffing, I’d like to figure where I can cut that back and not need so many positions. The biggest thing is we hire a lot of 16- and 17-year-olds; it could be their first job. We usually want to try and put them into the workforce and get them the most guidance that we can — and not run them out to where they’re feeling discouraged. It’s almost like running a summer camp.