EATON — After a local company and the Preble County Commissioners stepped up to offer help with funding and management, the previously canceled Preble County Pork Festival is set to return this coming September.
The Preble County Pork Festival Board of Directors held a public meeting at the Preble County Fairgrounds on Thursday, June 9, to discuss potential offers made by the Board of Preble County Commissioners and RMJG Events, a privately owned event planning business, on funding the Pork Festival for September 2022.
In April, the Pork Festival Board of Directors announced via the Pork Festival website, that due to a lack of funding, volunteers, and equipment in disrepair, the festival would be canceled for 2022.
The decision was met with heavy resistance, which resulted in a series of meetings, and then the public meeting on June 9.
The meeting on June 9 began with the PF Board hearing from the Preble County Commissioners, Adam Craft, Rachael Vonderhaar, and David Haber, who addressed the board and those gathered during their own brief meeting.
“Part of the reason that we got involved was because this is important — this festival is critical to our community,” Craft said. “I know for myself, and the Board of County Commissioners, this is very important, and it’s what we’re here to discuss. We hope that we can at least save it, and we hope that we can at least move it forward.”
Craft discussed briefly the history of the Pork Festival, the 1.8 million dollars the festival is solely responsible for investing into the Fairgrounds, and the numerous scholarships donated to high school graduates over the years.
Craft also made note of the economic impact the cancellation of the Pork Festival is anticipated to have on local businesses around Preble County, which could have negative results on both producers and consumers.
“The impact of not having this event, to our community, I think will be devastating,” concluded Craft.
The Preble County Commissioners presented the board with a $100,000 dollar loan offer, which in three years would be forgiven in its entirety. In addition to this loan, commissioners stated they would be willing to offer an additional $100,000 dollars in the form of a contingency operating line, to be used at the board’s discretion.
“You ask, ‘what’s the catch?’ So, here’s the catch,” elaborated Craft.
“The board of Preble County Commissioners believes that RMJG Events will bring new life, and new energy — new vitality — to the Pork Festival Board of Directors, and really help you guys in an amazing way.”
RMJG Events, owned by Robert and Megan Griffis of Eaton, would take over the Pork Festival and all operating procedures for the life of the loan extended by the Preble County Board of Commissioners, at the end of which, the Pork Festival Board of Directors could resume its supervision over the festival, and part ways with RMJG.
According to the Griffises, they have supervised events across the country, as well as currently serving with Downtown Eaton Inc.
According to commissioners, in addition to the funding offered by the county, RMJG brings with it extensive knowledge in event planning, as well as an additional $100,000 to be dedicated to the festival.
RMJG will provide this money for operational use, and should the 2022 Pork Festival earn $100,000 dollars or more in profits, they will repay the same amount to RMJG, plus 7.5 percent of the gross earnings. Whereas some members of the Pork Festival Board saw this as a steep negotiation, Robert Griffis assured the board that, under RMJG’s direction, they would not only meet $100,000 in profits, they would well exceed it.
“It’s going to take the whole community, for sure. We are event planners by trade, so we will be working on this full-time, whereas most of the board, this is really a part-time job for them,” Megan Griffis said.
“We would be out there talking to groups, and businesses, and schools, really bringing the community together to get that advocacy out there. And that would give us all the volunteers we needed,” Megan Griffis stated.
The PF Board expressed its opinion that due to school extracurricular events, a great majority of their younger volunteers are now occupied with prior commitments. According to board members, they lacked over 300 volunteers for the 2021 Pork Festival.
Pork Festival Board members urged those in attendance at the meeting to, “put pressure” on those overseeing events which might cause scheduling conflicts for potential volunteers for the Pork Festival.
Members of the board feel confident vendors and exhibitors will attend the tentative festival regardless of short notice.
The board heard from both vendors and local business representatives concerning ideas to help bolster the festival for 2022, ideas such as increasing vendor fees and charging for parking were presented by members of the public.
Sheriff Mike Simpson, who was in attendance, addressed the idea of charging for parking, and the traffic issues it would cause. “Regarding traffic, we talked about this a few months ago at one of the board meetings, and when you get into the grounds — you don’t really understand the scope of the traffic that’s trying to get into the grounds, get out of the grounds, and those that are not even trying to go to the festival — they’re just trying to traverse Eaton.”
“So, the fair, we can kind of deal with, because the majority of the cars coming in, they’re stopped taking money for attendance, giving change.,” Simpson said. “There’s no way for us to do that at the gates, with the way we have traffic and the way the city is set up. If we do that, we would gridlock the city of Eaton, and probably miles outside. We already have people, when we have a good crowd, waiting 45 minutes or so to even get into the grounds. If we did something like that, at the gates, I’d probably have a riot on my hands, because there’s just no way to efficiently get people in and out by taking money at the gates.
“If you charge five bucks a car, every other person is going to have a $20 dollar bill and going to want change, which requires volunteers to do that. The whole operation is huge. So I think would be a detriment to what you’re trying to do here,” he continued.
The board went into executive session to discuss the offers made by both the Preble County Board of Commissioners and RMJG Events, and upon exiting executive session made the unanimous decision to resume preparations and planning for the 2022 Pork Festival, taking both the offer from the county commissioners, and RMJG Events.
This provides $200,000 dollars at zero risk to be used for the festival, with an optional $100,000 operating line extended by the Preble County Board of Commissioners, if needed.
On Friday, June 10, the Preble County Convention and Visitors Bureau Board issued a statement regarding the news of the festival’s return for 2022.
“The Pork Festival is an important event for the Preble County economy and its impact is far-reaching in terms of indirect economic side effects. Food and beverage and other retail sales at establishments in Eaton and elsewhere in Preble County see increases the weekend of the festival as visitors from outside the area make their way to and from the fairgrounds,” the statement noted.
“I am personally excited the Pork Festival will be back for 2022,” Preble County Convention and Visitors Bureau Board President Stephanie Garrett said. “The entire Preble County Convention & Visitors Bureau Board is excited as well and will partner with the Pork Festival to provide marketing and support as we do all festivals and events in Preble County to help highlight tourism and bring visitors to the area.”
In other business:
Several high school graduate scholarship recipients were also in attendance to receive their scholarships. The recipients present included Jenna Ditmer, Brianne Kosier and Riley Jewel. The 2022 high school scholarships recipients were: Ditmer, Eaton High School, Skyler Ward, National Trail High School; Kosier, National Trail High School; Jewel, Preble Shawnee High School and Madison Hundley, Twin Valley South High School.
The festival’s Tim H. Miller and Paul E. Ray Scholarships were awarded to Jarred Dunn and Trena Caldwell.
The Pork Festival Board of Directors made the unanimous decision to elect Tim Guthrie as the new board vice president, effective immediately.
The Pork Festival’s next public meeting will be held on Thursday, July 14, at the Preble County Fairgrounds. For a live countdown until the Pork Festival, or more information on the Pork Festival, visit www.porkfestival.org.