David Smith is a regular at the N.C. State Fair, never missing a day during its 11-day run in October.
But for Smith, a visit to the fair is a business trip. It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy himself when he’s there, but as the chief deputy commissioner of the N.C. Department of Agriculture, Smith has a lot of responsibilities when the fair is in town.
“It is an all-hands-on-deck deal,” Smith said earlier this week as the finishing touches were being made to the fair in preparation for opening day. “This is the department’s single biggest function, and we all work outside our normal work routines.”
Smith, a 1972 graduate of NC State, is focused on making sure that visitors to the fair have a good time. He checks to make sure lines to get in are not too long and worries about congestion on the fair’s busiest days.
“I like to see people enjoying themselves,” he says. “It can be on a ride or an an exhibit, but it’s a good feeling if you see people enjoying themselves. We want happy people here.”
But the fair is in danger of becoming a victim of its own success. With crowds pouring in day after day, the fairgrounds are frequently pushed to their capacity and beyond. The number of rides has increased dramatically over the past few decades — at 103 rides, the N.C. State Fair has the most rides of any fair in North America, Smith says — and entries in fair contests (nearly 26,000) is up 43 percent over last year.
“We’ve expanded a great deal,” Smith says. “We’re on the verge of outgrowing our space. We need to move some things internally.”
The fair has maintained a strong emphasis on agriculture through the years, and Smith does not see that changing. He says he hopes visitors will enjoy a new exhibit this year on the use of technology in agriculture, and noted that visitors can enjoy all sorts of North Carolina agricultural products at the fair, from artisan cheeses to NC State’s Howling Cow ice cream.
But Smith won’t be sampling much of the fair food himself. Remember, a visit to the fair is a business trip for Smith.
“You’re talking to the wrong guy here,” he says. “I come out here and eat a salad.”