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About this blog: I am a native of Alameda County, grew up in Pleasanton and currently live in the house I grew up in that is more than 100 years old. I spent 39 years in the daily newspaper business and wrote a column for more than 25 years in add...  (More)

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Maintaining momentum will be a challenge

Uploaded: Apr 18, 2013
Directors of the Alameda County Fair announced this week that they'd gone to Orange County again to tap a successor for Rick Pickering, who left as CEO late last year to take over the troubled Cal-Expo State Fair in Sacramento.
Rick moved north to Pleasanton in 1999 from the Orange County Fair, leaving the deputy general manager overseeing daily operations position. New Pleasanton fair CEO Jerome Hoban was vice president for operations for four years before being tabbed as the interim CEO of the Orange County Fair last April when the prior CEO retired after 38 years (yes, that's right, he started when he was 12) at the fair.
Hoban agreed to the Pleasanton job while still the interim CEO at Orange County.
Pickering inherited a fair that was struggling financially and operationally in the wake of the 4th of July shooting in 1998. Hoban finds himself in just the opposite position—the Pleasanton fair has increased attendance 44 percent in the last four years and increased operating revenues 150 percent.
The Pleasanton operation, even with the impressive growth, is dwarfed by Orange County, which drew more than 1.3 million people to the fair last year. The Alameda County fair drew a record 535,000 last year, up more than 80,000 from the record the prior year. The fine tuning of the schedule, with Monday closures and special mid-week promotions, has paid off.
By contrast, Hoban leaves an association that has been wrestling with controversy since an ill-fated attempt to sell the 168-acre parcel and privatize it in 2009. The board is appointed by the governor. That resulted in investigations, the state attorney general's office recusing itself from defending the agency and lots of controversy. There have been calls by public officials in Orange County to re-open the investigations.
Hoban will have a clean slate in Alameda County with an association that has been on a consistent growth path since Pickering took over. I was remarking just last week at what a challenge it will be to take over the Pleasanton fair because it has been on such a good trajectory and has been absent of controversy.
The Orange County Fair has recorded excellent attendance numbers over the last five years, but has plenty of political questions.
Hoban, who showed cattle at the Orange County Fair through 4-H and Future Farmers of America while growing up, started working at the fair as an 18-year-old. I have a similar history—skip the FFA—at the Alameda County Fair including showing cattle and working for a couple of years during the fair. His decision to move north after such a history with the OC Fair provides a fresh start and one huge challenge to continue the momentum that has been built in Pleasanton over the past few years.
The 101st Alameda County Fair will run from June 19 to July 7.

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