New Kansas State Fair manager named

John Green
The Hutchinson News
Bryan Schulz

When Ryan Schulz took over reins of North Dakota’s Red River Valley Fair in 2008, he was the fourth manager at the organization in four years.

The operation in West Fargo had a more than $1.5 million deficit and many of its more than 27 buildings needed repair.

Before he left the venue after nearly 13 years, Schulz said, the operation was on solid footing and the annual 10-day July event had set new attendance records.

He left that job seeking a bigger challenge, and a few months later was offered the manager position with the Oregon State Fair, which was nearly three times the size of his hometown fair.

Before he started, however, the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

That year’s fair was canceled, and the job offer withdrawn.

Schulz landed on his feet, taking a job as general manager of the Las Cruces Convention Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico, a facility having its struggles, with its previous manager under investigation.

In two weeks, he’ll give up that job.

On Wednesday Schulz was named the new general manager of the Kansas State Fair, following a unanimous vote of the State Fair Board via a Zoom call. He was one of eight people to apply and one of two interviewed.

“We’re excited about Bryan Schulz becoming the General Manager of the Kansas State Fair,” said Board President Harmon Bliss, who noted Schulz experience, as reflected in his leadership of the Red River Valley Fair and his certification in fair management, “promises to take the Kansas State Fair to new heights.”

Schulz and his wife, Lisa, currently live in Las Cruces, with their two daughters Karli and Katie.

When he starts Aug. 2, Schulz will have to hit the ground running since it will be less than 60 days before the annual State Fair in Hutchinson starts.

He plans to rely on the groundwork laid by the Kansas State Fair staff and interim General Manager Ed Berger, who will stay on through the fair to assist, he said.

“My philosophy is never to micromanage if you’ve got a great team,” Schulz said.

“I’m excited,” Schulz said in a press conference, also conducted remotely. “I look on it as a great opportunity.”

Schulz was surprised to learn the COVID-19 vaccination rate in Reno County was less than 40% and that it’s not much higher for the state.

In New Mexico, he said, it’s over 70%.

“I do need to sit down with the team and find out what protocols are in place” to protect the public during the large, multiday event. “I’m assuming Dr. Berger and the team and board have started working on that already.”

Noting he has a daughter who is immune-compromised, “it is something we need to get information out about,” he said.

“People have their rights as well,” he said. “If people decide not to get vaccinated, we have to look at that, if we’ll require masks, or how it will be done.”

Shulz noted he has 13 years of fair experience, “not only on the management side but serving on fair boards."

While in his current post, he was on the Southern New Mexico Rodeo and Fair Board as a director. He was also active within the International Association of Fairs and Expos (IAFE), where he graduated from the Institute of Fair Management in 2012 and received his Certified Fair Executive (CFE) designation in 2013.

One of his daughters, he said, works for the state fair in Nebraska.

Before first joining the fair in West Fargo, Schulz served as a West Fargo city commissioner for two terms and worked with the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Business Bureau for 6 ½ years as Director of Sports Sales and Marketing, according to his LinkedIn site.

He was also a member of the 119th Fighter Wing of the North Dakota Air National Guard. He is active in the community serving on several committees and boards.

He earned a Bachelor's degree from North Dakota State University in Mass Communications, Animal Science, and Speech in 1991.

Under Schulz's tenure, the Red River Valley Fair grew to record attendance, according to news reports at the time of his resignation in 2019. The fair consistently drew more than 100,000 people through 2016, including a record 125,000 in 2009.

“There was a racetrack on the grounds, and that was the focus of the previous manager,” Schulz said of the Fargo operation. “All the money was going to the racetrack. I sat down with the team and re-evaluated what were the best things, financially, to look at. We decided racing was not number one, and we set that aside. The people were pleased with the changes.”

When he left, the fairgrounds had new indebtedness, but they’d put more than $5.5 million into building upgrades, he said, including new fair offices, bathrooms, conference rooms, and kitchens.

“We had something to show for it, other than outstanding bills,” he said. “We were able to upgrade the vast majority of buildings and bring them up to code. When I left, the buildings were once more safe and secure.”

He’s looking forward, he said, to taking an extensive tour of the grounds and learning about the needs and challenges.

“I’m happy to return to the Midwest,” Schulz said, noting when flying over for his interview with the fair board last week, he noticed how green it was.

“I’m a Midwest kid," he said. "One of the things that brought me back to the Midwest was the value of the people. I love Las Cruces, but the time factor is not there. There it’s pretty laid back.”

“I’m very excited about this new adventure,” he concluded. “In meeting with the board, they are very future-looking. I love their ideas.”

He’s also looking forward, he said, to working with a smaller board. The Red River Valley Fair board, he said, had 65 members.