Gary Slater, Iowa State Fair CEO and Fair Manager, is retiring after 21 years in his position. Slater has spent his entire career working in leadership positions for large events including the Missouri State Fair, the World Pork Expo and the Iowa State Fair, where he has served as CEO and Fair Manager since 2001.
"It has been an honor of a lifetime to lead the Iowa State Fair as its CEO and Manager for more than twenty years," said Slater. "I am very proud that the Iowa State Fair is in a strong position to succeed. Our team has worked hard to complete several successful capital improvements, we have enhanced attractions resulting in improved Fairgoer experiences, and attendance records have been shattered. Most importantly, the Iowa State Fair enjoys financial stability and has returned to pre-pandemic revenue levels. I make this announcement because the time is right and the Fair is in a good place. Without question, it will be difficult for me to step away from the Fair and the people I love, but I am looking forward to enjoying more quality time with my family."
Slater's leadership of the Iowa State Fair has resulted in many notable achievements over his nearly 22 years:
• Steadily built attendance to over 1.1 million
• Marked record attendance in 2019 and an all-time one-day attendance record in 2022
• Successfully managed through the pandemic-related 2020 Fair cancellation
• Created and maintained a full-time, duly sworn Iowa State Fair police department to ensure public safety
• Recorded record setting concert attendance at Chris Stapleton concert in 2021
His mark can be seen on almost every inch of the Fairgrounds including the following improvements and renovations made under his leadership:
• Susan Knapp Amphitheater and Mid-American Stages
• Elwell Family Food Center and Elwell Family Park
• Jacobson Exhibition Center
• Animal Learning Center and Little Hands on the Farm
• Renovations for Pioneer Hall, Grandfather's Barn, Expo Hill, Youth Inn, 4-H Building and Gates 13 & 15
• Thrill Ville and Thrill Town Ride Areas and institution of an Independent Midway structure
• Grandstand renovations, additional seating, restrooms and larger stage
• 2022 state and matching funding to renovate the historic swine, cattle, sheep and horse barns
"Gary has led the Fair through unprecedented times and brought about extraordinary improvements during his tenure," said Iowa State Fair Board President Tennie Carlson. "From building renovations, to new programs and entertainment, which helped build to annual attendance consistently exceeding than 1 million Fairgoers, Gary never wavered in his passion to make the Iowa State Fair the Iowa treasure we all know and love today. We congratulate Gary on a successful career and wish him and his family all the best in his well-deserved retirement."
In addition to overseeing the Iowa State Fair, Slater has been active in the community serving on the Board for Dowling Catholic High School, regularly attending community meetings, and speaking at numerous neighborhood gatherings, chamber of commerce or club events in promotion of the Iowa State Fair. In 2012, he served as the Chairman of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE) and has served on many committees and hosted various regional zone meetings for IAFE in additional to being involved in the Iowa Association of Fairs. In 2021, he was a Hall of Fame award recipient from the IAFE and in 2022 served as Chair of Catch Des Moines, the Des Moines Convention and Visitor's Bureau.
Gary Slater was born in Eolia, Missouri and is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri. After graduation, Slater served as a livestock supervisor for the Missouri State Fair, then raised sponsorships, booked special events, free entertainment, and off-seasons events for the Iowa State Fair. He went on to manage the World Pork Expo for six years before he returned to the Missouri State Fair as the Director and CEO for 4 years before he was selected to lead the Iowa State Fair as the CEO and Fair Manager in 2001. Gary and his wife, Mary, have three children, Madeline (Alex), Allison, and Andrew.
The Iowa State Fair Board will share more information on the search for a suitable replacement in the weeks ahead.