State Fair of Texas Brings Jobs to Dallas

October 19, 2011 by · Comments Off 

BEYOND THE BUBBLE

By Meghan Sikkel
msikkel@smu.edu

The Texas Star Ferris Wheel at the Texas State Fair. (Photo by Megan Sikkel/Beyond the Bubble Staff)

Andre Carter calls out to the masses at the State Fair of Texas, urging passers-by to take a shot at his ball toss carnival game. It’s easy, he says. Just toss the ball lightly against the board, so it falls into the basket. Watch me; I’ll show you how!

Throngs of people rush by, paying little attention to Carter as he demonstrates the key to winning big at his booth. The carnival game operator doesn’t seem to mind going unnoticed. In fact, he says the frenzied crowds are precisely why he loves his job at the fair.

“I always get to see something different,” Carter said.

It is his seventh year to work at the Texas State Fair, which is currently celebrating its 125th anniversary.

In order to work at the 24-day-long event each year, Carter saves his vacation days from his full-time job at FedEx, a practice vice president of public relations for the State Fair Sue Gooding says is common among employees.

“We have many employees that come every year,” Gooding said. “They usually have other jobs but will save vacation time to come out and work at the fair.”

With the unemployment rate in Texas at the highest it has been since 1987, 8.5 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is important to note the event brings more than just fried foods to the Lone Star State — it brings jobs.

According to Gooding, there is a spike in employment rates in the Dallas-Fort Worth area when the fair is in session, as a majority of seasonal employees are from surrounding areas.

Gooding says there are about 3,500 employees on the fair grounds at any given time during the three weeks it is open. Throughout the other 11 months of the year, the fair employs a full-time staff of about 30 people.

State Fair employee Wilma Everitt has worked in the fair’s Women’s Museum for three years. Although she works full time in administration at Dallas’ Baylor University Medical Center, Everitt does not have to use her vacation days to work at the fair thanks to the leniency of her boss.

“I just leave, and they provide coverage. When I return, I take over,” Everitt said.

Everitt says she enjoys working at the fair because she likes meeting people from all over Texas and seeing their enthusiasm.

Elizabeth Reid, who does administrative work for the fair’s creative arts department, has been working for the organization for 30 years. She first became involved with the event through her mother, who also worked in the creative arts department.

“Since my mother was here, I have just always come in,” Reid, 47, said. “I do what she used to do, except now we type on computers.”

A part-time employee of Walmart, Reid doesn’t have to conserve vacation days to work at the fair, although previous full-time jobs have required her to do so in the past.

“If I had a job, I’d work maybe on weekends, or I was able to take some vacation time,” she said. “It’s just something that I’ve always done under some capacity.”

Reid says her passion for the fair stems from the excitement and the people.

“It’s an opportunity to have lots of unique experiences that you don’t get in a lot of other jobs,” she said.

Part of the fair’s uniqueness derives from its title as the largest state fair in the U.S. by annual attendance, according to CarnivalWarehouse.com. With more than 2.6 million attendees last year, the Texas fair is a haven for people watchers like general manager of Desperados Mexican Restaurant Jake Levy.

Levy, who runs the fair’s Desperados concession stand, says working at the event is the largest sociological experiment he has ever been a part of.

Jake Levy and his mother Helen at the Desperados stand. (Photo by Meghan Sikkel/Beyond the Bubble Staff)


“The entire world walks by, both sides of the spectrum and everything in between,” Levy said. “Sometimes it’s frightening. But most of the time, it’s a lot of fun.”

“You see everybody in the world that you know, that you don’t know, that you’re going to meet,” said Helen Levy, Jake Levy’s mother, who works at the Desperados concession stand.

Located just outside the Food and Fiber Pavilion, the Levys’ booth has been in the same spot for 10 years. As a result, Helen Levy says they have developed relationships over the years with the neighboring concession stands, Fletcher’s Corny Dogs and Lone Star Pizza.

“It’s almost like family,” she said. “Things always happen. So you rely on your neighbors, and they come to you.”

Many State Fair employees appreciate the job opportunities the fair offers, even if the crowds can be overwhelming at times.

Although he refers to his time at the fair as his “little vacation” from his restaurant on Greenville Avenue, Jake Levy describes working at the fair as a war of attrition.

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my whole life,” he said. “But I love it.”