2023 Iowa State Fair Starts This Week, With Parsons As CEO

Des Moines, Iowa — The Iowa State Fair begins on Thursday, with a new manager who’s only the 13th person in the fair’s 169 year history to serve in that role.

Jeremy Parsons, who took over as Iowa State Fair CEO and manager in March, has the photos of two former state fair managers hanging on the wall in his office. J.C. Simpson is one of them. Simpson was State Fair manager from 1901 to 1911. He oversaw construction of major facilities that still stand today. Parsons says most of the 2023 entertainment and events had been announced well before he started as Iowa State Fair manager, so he hasn’t been tinkering.

There are 70 full-time employees year round and another 80 work from May through October on what Parsons describes as a “reimagined” fairgrounds that hosts events all year long.

During the fair’s 11-day run, however, the staff size swells to 16-hundred, as hundreds of thousands of visitors come through the fair gates. Parsons says his goal as fair manager is to serve those who return for state fair traditions and those who want to see something new.

Parsons, who is 46, estimates his first trip to the State Fair was in 1977.

Long-time Iowa State Fair manager Marion Lucas, who retired in 2001, helped Parsons learn the ropes of the job. Parsons, who grew up in Leon, wrote the state fair’s manager a letter as part of an elementary school assignment. Lucas invited Parsons to a tour of the fairgrounds during the next state fair and several fairs after that. When Parsons was 17, Lucas suggested Parsons apply to be a seasonal state fair employee.

But Parsons soon got into the fair business full time, leading fundraising for the Missouri State Fair. He was CEO of the Clay County Fair in Spencer when he was tapped to lead the Iowa State Fair.

Parsons gave a reporter a golf cart tour of the fairgrounds this week. The first stop was at a newer venue on the northwest side of the fairgrounds that hosts State Fair events that create some noise.

This week bleachers are being set up at various venues around the fairgrounds. Food and beverage stands are popping up along streets and sidewalks.

Flags are flying on top of some of the buildings and barns.

The fairgrounds were declared a Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987 and many of those flagpoles are on buildings or barns that are more than a century old.