Nearly $60 million flowed into the Minnesota State Fair coffers last year. Where did it go?

Lorraine Robitaille, right, handed Margarita Nunez a large stuffed dog as they hung prizes at their game stand in the Midway in 2019.
Lorraine Robitaille, right, handed Margarita Nunez a large stuffed dog as they hung prizes at their game stand in the Midway in 2019.

— Renee Jones Schenider, Star Tribune

More than 2 million people multiplied by a $15 admission fee equals a lot of dough, deep fried or not.

The Minnesota State Fair has never been the cheapest way to spend the day. But as prices continue to rise — admission fees have gone up $1 for this year's fair, the fourth hike in the last decade — it left some readers wondering: Where does all the money go?

As Minnesotans geared up for this year's beloved end-of-summer fest, we asked you to send in questions about the State Fair for our Curious Minnesota, a community-driven series fueled by submissions from inquisitive readers. Some readers had done the math and wanted to know where all the money went.

"All of it goes back into the fair," said Jerry Hammer, the fair's chief executive. "The better this year's fair goes, the better next year's will be."

Last year's fair did very well. A record number of visitors came out to the Great Minnesota Get-Together, so gate ticket and parking sales alone brought in $23 million.

Then there's the $8 million from the Midway and the $4.3 million from the Grandstand, as well as money earned from leasing space on the fairgrounds. In all, the State Fair brought in a record breaking $57.2 million last year.

Of course, a majority of revenue goes to cover the cost of putting on the 12-day festival of music, animals, traditions and foods on sticks.

The State Fair has 87 employees who work year round, although a fair spokeswoman said she could not provide the salaries of staff members. Last year, $2.4 million was spent on administrative costs.

All told, the fair had expenses totaling $48 million, leaving it with a profit of $9.2 million in 2018.

That's used to fund free entertainment at future fairs or ground improvements like the North End Event Center built this year to host museum-quality exhibits. Last year's success also paid for the new 24-foot-tall Minnesota Corn Fairstalk, an art installation celebrating the state's agricultural industry.

The year before, the fair added an open-air pet pavilion, new restrooms and the Hangar, a food and craft beer establishment that opened in the old pet center.

The State Fair does not receive any public funding, Hammer said. Everything is financed by earnings from previous fairs or donations made to the State Fair Foundation, its nonprofit arm.

In the past, however, it has received appropriations, although Hammer said the last time the fair took money from the government was in 1949, when it received a reimbursement payment for allowing the livestock area to be converted into a military aircraft propeller plant during World War II.

The fair is produced by the Minnesota State Agricultural Society, a group of delegates from the state's 87 counties as well as representatives from agriculture, horticulture and education associations. The society is described as a "quasi-state agency" because it was organized as a public corporation by the Legislature in 1860, though its roots date back to 1854, when the first fair was held and Minnesota was not yet a state.

Employing sound business practice is crucial for the fair's success, Hammer said, "but, to all of us, it's much more than that. This is all about something that belongs to all of Minnesota."


If you'd like to submit a Curious Minnesota question, fill out the form below:

This form requires JavaScript to complete.

Read more Curious Minnesota stories:

How did these 11 Minnesota towns get their unusual names?

Has Minnesota every had a major earthquake?

How did the Twin Cities become a hub for Somali immigrants?

Why was Minneapolis' mansion street destroyed, but St. Paul's survived?

Why won't anyone in Minnesota take the last piece of food?

Is Minnesota's tiny Lake Itasca the true source of the Mississippi River?

Why isn't Isle Royale a part of Minnesota?

Why is Uptown south of downtown in Minneapolis?

Correction: Previous versions of this article included figures from a preliminary income report that the Minnesota State Fair provided to the Star Tribune. After publication, the Fair provided revised figures, which are now reflected in the story.