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FROM LOCAL TO GLOBAL
As society is becoming increasingly urbanized, exhibition grounds that were primarily used as a showcase for local agricultural products are now expanding their offerings to reach a more global audience. Take Regina Exhibition Park, for example, which has a long history as an agricultural showcase and a major exhibition venue in Saskatchewan and has more recently expanded its focus to international trade shows.

Sitting on a 100-acre property with 30 acres of buildings that are used for trade shows, exhibits and special events, Regina Exhibition Park, or Assiniboia Agricultural Association as it was then called, was established 120 years ago. The Park has continuously held an annual agricultural Fair since 1899. Since its inception, the fair has grown to include not only exhibitions of all sorts but also midway rides and entertainment such as sideshows, automobile racing and giant horse-pulling competitions. Today, Exhibition Park is home to sporting events and concerts, as well as catered events and the activities that surrounded the Canadian Football League's Grey Cup festivities last year.

"Most exhibitions evolved from an ag basis and producing the annual summer fair, but we've moved way, way past that," says Mark Allan, president and CEO of Regina Exhibition Park. "We still do the summer fair, but the agricultural showcase of the summer fair is largely gone now, as it has manifested itself in other shows. We still do agriculture; we just do it differently than we used to."

This new way of showcasing agriculture includes agricultural shows of a much larger scale, such as the Western Canada Farm Progress Show and the Canadian Western Agribition.

WESTERN CANADA FARM PROGRESS SHOW

The Western Canada Farm Progress Show is held every year in mid-June, just after seeding and before spraying. A dryland farming showcase, the Farm Progress Show features the latest in dryland farming technology and draws international dealers, manufacturers, and farmers from around 20 to 30 different countries. It is primarily an outdoor show but does have a significant indoor component.

"As a machinery show, the Farm Progress Show would be one of the largest in Canada," says Allan. "It is unique because of the international attention it attracts, both visitors and programming."

That international element does not happen just by chance. "We actively work with Canadian trade commissioners and various government programs to attract the international component," says Allan. "We have a proactive program to create interest in what's going on with the Show."

One popular feature of the Western Canada Farm Progress Show, the third-largest farm show in North America held each June in Regina, Saskatchewan, is the new inventions display shown here.
Part of that program includes the International Business Centre (IBC). The IBC provides a number of services to all international visitors including helping them with hotel reservations, ground transportation, and arranging meeting rooms. It also helps ensure buyers, trade delegations and exporters are introduced to each other. As well, government and agribusiness advisers are available to help guide delegates through the intricacies of international trade.

With 30,000 to 40,000 attendees at the Show in three days, agrimarketers have a lot of opportunity to showcase their products, ranging from farm machinery manufacturers to agricultural chemical dealers to financial services representatives. "There's a big focus on marketing and sales," says Allan.

AGRIBITION

One of the other large agricultural shows at the Park is Canadian Western Agribition. This annual show in November attracts approximately 145,000 people from all over the world in just under a week. With more than 600 exhibits displaying products and services from across North America, the show appeals to a wide range of people from city slickers to country folk.

Some of the top draws are the indoor rodeo and a huge livestock show. There are also a number of pavilions that capture the interest of many attendees. These pavilions feature everything including health and beauty products, educational opportunities, financial and investment services, and western arts, crafts, and fashion. There are exhibits for the handyman or woman featuring home and building products, and of course, a large component of Agribition deals with new and innovative technology in the grain and livestock industries.

REVITALIZATION AND RENEWAL

In order to capitalize on the facilities at Regina Exhibition Park, a large revitalization project is underway. "We have a large property in a smaller market and that affords us a number of opportunities," says Allan. "We're taking a strategic approach to renewing and revitalizing the facilities for some of the major events that we already host, as well as looking at redeveloping some property for potential new business. This new business will be a departure from the norm for the Park."

Construction has begun on a new 90,000-square-foot indoor sports facility that will house indoor soccer and other turf-related sports. This multipurpose facility can also be converted into an exhibit hall for trade shows and other events. Construction is expected to take about a year and will be completed in time for next year's Farm Progress Show in June.

The second major initiative to renew and revitalize the Park is an international agricultural trade and export center. Still in the planning stages, this venture capitalizes on the sizeable international participation in the Farm Progress Show and Agribition. "We're looking at building on the international profile of our two major events," says Allan. "This initiative consists of office space for businesses and organizations actively engaged in international marketing of agricultural products and for people in the export business.

"This will be office space that will be associated with our large exhibit space and the other services we provide for other events," continues Allan. "We see it working as a hosting venue, a trade and exhibit venue, and perhaps even an education and training venue."

Companies who set up in this new international trade and export center will be able to take advantage of being in an area that houses a lot of other companies that are involved in the same type of business. "Our concept is one of one-stop shopping, where all the services that are required for the export business can be housed under one roof," says Allan. "Being part of the action is a definite reason to be here."

This project will likely be completed in three to five years, but Allan says companies that have an interest in being part of this center are welcome to contact the Park with their ideas. "We have had a lot of interest, mainly here in the province, but we'll be talking to more people in the industry, Canada-wide, in the coming year." And this venture is not limited to Canadian companies either. Allan says there is definitely room for Canada's trading partners as well.

The old real estate adage of "location, location, location" is another benefit to being part of this center. "Taking advantage of the existing large footprint events that already happen here will be a strong draw," says Allan. "We have the size of a middle market and the services of a large market with an international airport, the exhibition grounds, and the downtown all within about a mile of each other."

BRIGHT FUTURE

By revitalizing and renewing its facilities and services, Regina Exhibition Park is ensuring that the Park's, and Saskatchewan's, future remains bright. Taking advantage of the exporting expertise already found in the province is just another way to market what Saskatchewan offers to the world. AM

Stephanie Fehr is a public relations associate with Issues Ink, a communications company based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, that publishes several agriculture magazines, including Germination and Manure Matters.


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