Public officials take offices to the state fair - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Public officials take offices to the state fair

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Courtesy of W.Va. Dept. of Agriculture Courtesy of W.Va. Dept. of Agriculture
Courtesy of W.Va. Secretary of State’s Office Courtesy of W.Va. Secretary of State’s Office
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The Bible (and The Byrds) tells us "to everything there is a season," and in West Virginia we have several distinct ones: hunting, fishing, football, election and fair and festival season.

Many elected officials keep the State Fair of West Virginia marked on their calendars as a can't-miss event every year. This year's fair ran from Aug. 9-17 in Farlea, and it hosted the mobile offices for several state offices.

"For us, we feel like it's the mobile office, and we're taking the office to where people are," explained Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. "We've done it not just for the State Fair, but we've been to Martinsburg, Fairmont, Beckley, and it's just an opportunity for people to see folks face to face without having to come to Charleston."

Tennant said she was pleased her office received 2nd place at the fair for best state agency booth, runner up to the Division of Tourism, but what's most important is the interaction. Tennant said several people changed their voter registrations at the booth, and her staff members (who work the event on a volunteer basis) draw visitors in to the booth.

"We have information about the office, about business and licensing, voter registration and we have the fun thing, the interactive seal," she said.

Tennant said she and her staff members came up with the idea for a state seal people could get "inside," five years ago before their first state fair. Visitors can stand behind the round cutout and have their pictures taken while holding the iconic state symbols, such as a piece of coal or a rifle, and it's something she provides for several events each year. She is the keeper of the seal, by state statute, after all. And Tennant, who grew up on a farm, has her own personal state fair traditions.

"Farmers always go to the animal barns," she said. "And my daughter and I have a tradition now, there's a ride called the Wild Mouse; they take a picture of you as you're going down the slope, so we have these pictures from the past five years from the Wild Mouse ride.

"It's important to go because it is the gathering point for the state, and it's always good to see people face-to-face and for folks to know that we provide these services."

And while agriculture doesn't always take center stage at every fair or festival, the State Fair of West Virginia still makes farming a big part of the activities.

The Department of Agriculture started a Twitter account just before the fair started and shared several pictures from the fair every day, a total of 150, including a play-by-play account of a cow giving birth.

"The general public gets a good look at agriculture, which is still a huge part of the State Fair, and it's an additional opportunity to facilitate learning for the public and to educate people about agriculture," explained Beth Southern, assistant director of the Department of Agriculture Communications Division. "We can promote agriculture through the livestock part and the agribusiness side."

Southern said the department wants to capture young people's attention, and it hopes the Twitter and Facebook accounts will help. The department also provides animal help staff for the fair to get every animal checked in at the fair (a total of 2,651 livestock and equine) and then to check on the health of every animal in every barn two to three times each day as well as answer program or disease questions. Animal health staff also disinfected the barns on a regular schedule and maintained hand-washing stations outside a few barns and the birthing tent, which gets drained a few times a day on busy days.

The department had apiary staff with honeybees for young fair visitors to spin honey themselves along with several exhibits each day, and Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick made several rounds at the fair with his wife, Rita.

"We're all about promotion and growing agriculture right now," Southern said. "We're trying to capture people who may be interested into going into one part of agriculture, whether it's livestock, agribusiness or growing vegetables.

"There are 10 days to communicate with our farmers and our agribusiness operators, which is probably the best and the most important thing about the State Fair to us," she said

While the Division of Labor doesn't staff an exhibit booth at the fair, labor personnel are there to be sure the amusement rides are in compliance with safety regulations.

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., hasn't had an office presence at the fair in recent years, but he keeps an active mobile office schedule to take care of constituent assistance. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin doesn't set up an office at the fair, either, but he does make an annual appearance.

"It provides a unique opportunity for West Virginia's finest to showcase their hard work and passion," Manchin said this week.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who campaigned on the abolition of "trinkets" and self-promotion, staffed a booth at the fair. His communications director, Beth Ryan, said the fair "is a premier opportunity for our office to speak directly to citizens about the work our office does to fight for West Virginia against federal overreach, protect consumers and uphold the laws in the books."

Ryan said Morrisey and his employees "were able to talk with thousands of citizens one-on-one, answer questions and hear their thoughts and concerns about issues important to them."

WorkForce West Virginia "has had a booth at the State Fair for as long as anyone can remember," according to communications specialist Courtney Sisk. 

"Agencies participate because it's an excellent way to share information about their agency, provide information about the services they offer and also answer questions visitors may have," Sisk said. "We have discovered many of our visitors need assistance but hesitate to go into an office because they feel intimidated.

"This is a much more relaxed environment and allows them to get the information they need without having to go into an office."

Sisk said the booth has conveyed information about job opportunities, unemployment compensation, labor market information and relocation information, and this was the first time the agency had wifi at the fair.

And the Division of Tourism, which shared its booth with the Division of Natural Resources and Wonderful West Virginia Magazine, distributed the official state travel guides as well as answering questions about the countless things to see and do in the state.

"Many of the visitors to the fair have traveled in their own region," Tourism spokeswoman Andrea Bond said. "This is our opportunity to talk about all the regions of our state by speaking face-to-face with visitors to the fair from inside and outside of West Virginia."