By STEVE BROWN
PUYALLUP, Wash. -- More than the name is changing at the Washington State Fair.
What has been known as the Puyallup Fair now seeks to embrace the entire state and to amplify the role of agriculture both East Side and West.
"Agriculture is one of the traditional things that make fairs great," Kent Hojem, who continues in his role as the fair's CEO, said. "We want to refocus on those traditions and really shine a spotlight on them."
Visitors to this year's fair, which starts Sept. 6 for a 17-day run, will find a redesigned Evergreen Hall, formerly the Grand Marketplace, which will house agriculture-horticulture, floral and Grange exhibits.
"We can't change everything this year, but we do want to make all kinds of participation available," he said.
Hojem plans to begin right away on outreach to the Washington beyond the Cascades, with billboards to attract visitors and invitations to bring in East Side agriculture. The wine industry, tree fruits and wheat will become part of that refocusing.
"We want every corner of the state to have a home here," Hojem said. "Our mission statement says we are 'the place where Washington comes to celebrate generation after generation.'"
"We have multiple generations who have come to the Puyallup Fair," said Pat BoyEs, director of the state 4-H program for Washington State University Extension. "For over four decades, this is where our culminating state event is, where qualifiers go on to national competition."
Because 4-H'ers come from every part of the state, she said, "This is a very easy transition in the 4-H world."
As the state fair expands its reach, Hojem said, "We're trying to be sensitive to other fairs. We don't want to take away from anybody's local fair. People derive pride and pleasure from participating in their own fair."
Though the fairground is undergoing lots of changes -- most noticeably the signage on buildings, parking lots, directions and barns -- "It's more than just a name change. It's rebranding. It's an opportunity to reinvent yourself."
So organizers are reconsidering things like rethinking customer service and appealing to a larger demographic.
The name-change process began about five years ago, Hojem said, when board members visited the Texas State Fair in Dallas and realized the cachet of the phrase "state fair." The name adds to the geographic draw and the legitimacy of the event.
Being known as the Puyallup Fair didn't get much attention from national sponsors, vendors and entertainers. Also, it didn't reflect what the fair has become.
"The Washington State Fair is a natural evolution of where we've gone and where we're going," he said. "We already have components that make it a state fair, especially with statewide 4-H and FFA competitions and national livestock shows. They have existed for literally decades -- the name better reflects what the fair is."
Hojem has heard a lot of feedback to the new name, everything from "enthusiastic acceptance through cautious concern to even some opposition."
"I can understand all those. I am kind of a traditionalist myself, but it's important to realize this is not the first name change. It started as the Valley Fair in 1900, changed to the Western Washington Fair in 1913 and it became the Puyallup Fair in 1976."