Renee Alexander, CFE - Minnesota State Fair
As Deputy General Manager for the Minnesota State Fair, Renee Alexander oversees the marketing, entertainment, ticketing, educational programming, graphic design, web and guest services departments. Among her primary responsibilities is booking and producing entertainment for the 13,000-seat historic Grandstand, which draws more than 100,000 concert-goers and upwards of $5 million in revenue in just 12 days.
She is also responsible for the overall branding and promotion of the Great Minnesota Get-Together and, as part of the senior management team works to develop vision, strategies and resources for a world class exposition that preserves tradition while presenting a guest experience that is innovative, entertaining, and fun.
has participated in IAFE since 2005, is a member of the International
Entertainment Buyers Association and chaired the organization in 2020. She is also a graduate of the Leadership Music
class of 2022.
Jaryth Barten, Program Manager, Kansas Leadership Center
Jaryth Barten is responsible for managing the execution of events and leadership programs hosted virtually and in-person at the Kansas Leadership Center Conference Center. He found a passion for leadership development at a young age and he has been seeking out opportunities to grow himself and others in the discipline ever since. Jaryth believes that leadership is the key to unlocking a future in which all people can thrive. Jaryth graduated summa cum laude from Fort Hays State University with degrees in organizational leadership and communication. 4-H was a significant experience in his upbringing and he aims to give back to the program as often as he can to ensure 4-Hers have access to high quality, youth-led development. Jaryth advises the Sedgwick County Teen Council, Kansas 4-H Youth Leadership Council, and serves on the Dickinson County 4-H Foundation Board of Directors. Growing up in Woodbine, Kansas, Jaryth is skeptical of others who claim to be from “small” towns. As an avid extrovert, he can never seem to get enough social time to make him slow down. He loves fishing, woodworking, swing-dancing, looking for sasquatch, trying new foods, discussing BIG ideas, and is always in search of a new activity to get his adrenaline pumping. One day soon he hopes to be a proud boat owner as he has decided it seems like more fun than a house despite the continuous advisement of his friends and family.
Bill Bourne - Associate Principal, Architect, Populous
Bill received his Masters of Architecture from the University of Kansas and is a registered architect in Missouri, Kansas, Maryland and Texas. He is a Leed accredited professional and serves on the IAFE Master Planning and Physical Operations committee.
Matt Bruskotter - Senior Director of Event Operations, Indiana State Fair
Jen Cannon, IFMG - Iowa State Fair
Jen Cannon is the Competitive Events Director for the Iowa State Fair where she is responsible for over 65,000 entries in everything from livestock to fine art and also oversees Agriculture Education programming. Jen had been with the Iowa State Fair for 14 years and prior to her current position was the Sponsorship Director with the Blue Ribbon Foundation. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Central College majoring in Business Administration with an emphasis is marketing and a minor in communications. Jen graduated from the International Association of Fairs and Expos (IAFE) Institute of Fair Management in 2010. She is active in the North American Livestock and Rodeo Managers Association and the IAFE Agriculture Committee. Jen and her husband, Tom, have two sons, Lane and Trey. They all work together to operate a purebred Charolais herd in central Iowa and participate in cattle shows throughout the country.
Leslie Cunningham – Impact & Profits
Leslie is an award-winning Leadership and Teamwork Development Expert. She has over 25 years of experience coaching, leading workshops, educational seminars and working with leaders and their teams. She is the founder/owner of Impact & Profits, a columnist for a national magazine and an internationally published author whose work has appeared in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Leslie is a radio personality, hosting her own weekly call-in talk show, “Extraordinary Leadership & Teamwork,” and has appeared live on CBS (formerly CNN) News Talk Radio. She has mentored, trained under and collaborated with Jim Bergquist, World Famous Pike Place Fish Market consultant. Her mission is to empower every leader to stand in their FULL power and authority and transform their workplace culture to inspire extraordinary teamwork and breakthrough results.
Matt Daly, IFMG, CFE -Sonoma County Fair & Exposition
Matt is the COO of the Sonoma County Fair & Exposition, CA. Previously the Operations Director at the South Florida Fair, and prior Matt has 20 years of experience developing agricultural related programming.
Debbie Evans, Evans Marketing Partners
Hospitality industry veteran Debbie Evans has more than 20 years of sales, marketing and public relations experience. Her career has taken her from the floor of Germany’s largest travel trade fair to the top of Spain’s tallest roller coaster.
Evans has extensive experience in product launch, photo and video direction, collateral development, corporate communications, crisis management, and media relations. Through the year 2006, Debbie served as Six Flags, Inc.’s corporate director of communications providing strategic counsel and oversight of the company’s 39 parks worldwide.
After her tenure at Six Flags, Evans gained valuable marketing agency experience working with leading consumer brands including Target, The Home Depot and Levolor Kirsch Window Fashions. As a consultant, her clients have included the International Association of Fairs & Expositions, PGA National Resort & Spa, Miraval Resort & Spa, Skyterra Wellness, Herschend Family Entertainment, Premier Parks and Six Flags among others.
Evans is a graduate of the Georgia State University school of Hospitality Administration and is active as a volunteer with IAAPA and numerous state and local organizations. A native of Atlanta, Debbie currently lives with her family on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Ken Karns, IFMG, CFE - OC Fair & Event Center, CA
Ken was introduced to the Fair/Multi-Purpose Event Center industry at the Western Fair Association around 33 years ago. He has held a number of different positions from Projects and Facilities Manager, Events and Facilities Manager, Property Services Manager, Director of Operations, Director of Facility Development and Vice President – Operations. Ken’s post-secondary, Business/Facility Management and Technical education was completed in London Ontario at Fanshawe College. Always maintaining his passion for the development of the industry, Ken accepted a position as Chief Operating Officer at the OC Fair and Event Centre in Costa Mesa California back in January of 2016. Ken currently overseas the Fair, Master Site Planning and Capital Projects, Security & Safety, Event Operations, Facility Operations, and Production. Ken is currently serving on the Executive of the IAFE Board of Directors as First Vice Chair. Over his career he has served on several other Boards and Committees with IAFE, CAFÉ, TSSA, ASHRAE, IAPA, WSPS, and also on the Executive of the City of Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.
Kathy Kramer, IFMG, CFE – CEO, Central Washington Fair Association
Kramer has a diverse background in for-profit, government and non-profit organizations, holding key roles in the areas of executive management, strategic planning, sales and marketing, venue operations, production of major events and corporate sponsorship. She joined the Central Washington Fair Association, home of the Central Washington State Fair and Yakima Valley SunDome, in January 2020 as President and CEO.
She previously was CEO of the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa, California. During her tenure, the organization achieved its highest fair attendance, gross revenues, customer satisfaction ratings and won numerous industry and community awards. She was with Northlands in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada where she was the Vice President of Business Operations. Prior to that, Deputy Director of the Phoenix Convention Center and Venues, Vice President of Convention Sales & Marketing for Century Link Center in Omaha, Midwest Regional Director of Sales & Marketing for Six Continents Hotels and Resorts and Director of Sales & Marketing for Harrah’s Casino and Hotel.
Kramer holds a CVE (Certified Venue Executive) from the International Association of Venue Managers, is a Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) and Certified Festival and Event Executive (CFEE) from the International Festival and Events Association.
Laura Kwilos, IFMG, CFE – Erie County Fair, NY
Laura Kwilos is the Agriculture Manager of the Erie County Fair in Hamburg, NY, and has been working at the Erie County Fair for 13 years. Prior to the fair industry Laura attended Morrisville State College and is a 2016 Institute of Fair Management Graduate along with a 2017 recipient of the Certified Fair Executive designation. Her IAFE involvement includes serving on the Agriculture and CFE committees. Laura, her husband Joshua and daughter Olivia live on a small, crossbred beef cattle farm in Forestville, NY and enjoy showing cattle at local and state shows.
Denny Magruder – Sports and Entertainment Authority, WV
Denny Magruder is the Executive Director of the “Sports and Entertainment Authority” in Wheeling, West Virginia. Denny received a degree in Accounting / Business Administration from West Liberty State University. After graduation he served in many finance capacities with the City of Wheeling including utility rate analyst, budget director and Urban Renewal Treasurer. He then joined the Certified Public Accounting firm of Jack. J. Ferlise Co. specializing in field audits and governmental accounting. He was appointed Business Manager / Comptroller of the Marshall County School District.
In April 1986, Denny assumed his current position. Denny has been an Associate member of the International Association of Fairs & Expositions (IAFE) since 1986 and has presented the Financial Management courses at the IAFE’s “Institute of Fair Management” since 2009.
During his long tenure, the Arena and Theatre have hosted thousands of events including US Presidential visits, professional sporting events, major tournaments, national touring acts, Broadway and Symphony events, and numerous banquets and conferences.
Penny McBride - Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce, TX
Penny C. McBride is the Producer of the Light The Night Christmas Parade, an illuminated night parade, which more than doubles the population of the community of Fredericksburg, Texas and is viewed live by 17,000 households on CBS Austin. She recently retired as President & CEO of the Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce, representing more than 800 area businesses. For 14 years prior to starting with the Chamber she owned Indigo Resource Group, providing marketing services to tourism-related businesses and organizations. Her company managed the Texas Festival & Events Association and the Texas Association of Fairs and Events for nine years. Early in her career, Penny served as the Director of the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitor Bureau, during which time occupancy tax receipts increased more than 400 percent and sales tax revenues tripled. She continues to work as a consultant, speaker, trainer and writer. Her speaking clients have included the International Tour & Travel Research Association, Argentina Economic Development Federation, Dubai Events and Promotions Establishment, Hawaii Tourism Authority and Community Associations Institute. Since 2008, she has worked on a contract basis for the International Festivals and Events Association (IFEA). Penny teaches two of the six required core courses for IFEA’s Certified Festival & Event Executive (CFEE) program. She serves on the faculty of National Event Management School, jointly produced by IFEA and the National Recreation and Park Association and teaches Business Planning for the International Association of Fairs & Exposition’s Institute of Fair Management. She is also a frequent presenter for the Texas Event Management Institute. In 2011, she was inducted into the Texas Festival and Event Association’s Hall of Honor. Penny is a graduate of Texas State University, where she studied public relations and business administration. She is a co-founder and inaugural class member of Leadership Gillespie County, a program now entering its 32nd year with more than 600 alumni. Penny enjoys traveling, writing, photography and watercolor painting. Her writing and photography may be found on her blog – ALesserLife.com. She is active as a community volunteer with a passion for events, church activities and the local healthcare system, serving on the Methodist Healthcare System Community Board.
Jessie McLaughlin, IFMG, CFE - Spokane County Interstate Fair, WA
Jessica McLaughlin hails from the Spokane County Fair and Expo in Spokane Washington. Jessica serves as the Fair Coordinator. Jessica graduated from Spokane Community College with an Associate of Arts Degree and an A.A.S in Hotel, Motel and Restaurant Management. She is a graduate of the IAFE Institute of Fair Management and received her Certified Fair Executive Designation in 2009. In addition to her many Fair responsibilities, Jessica is involved in her community through Camp Fire-USA; Boy Scouts of America ‘Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; and the Washington State Horsemen. Other interests include Geocaching, camping, hiking and scrapbooking.
Dr. Stephen Neel – Technical Solutions, Inc.
Dr. Neel has been active in the international food business since 1985. Upon completion of his Ph.D. program in Meat Science & Muscle Biology from the University of Georgia in 1992, Dr. Neel was retained by the United States Meat Export Federation (USMEF) to study and develop meat-marketing strategies for USMEF programs in the Russian Federation. Dr. Neel was subsequently employed by the USMEF as the Director of Technical Services and was responsible for development, implementation and evaluation of technical marketing activities funded by USMEF in over 50 international markets, with a particular emphasis on emerging markets.
Dr. Neel’s primary focus during his doctoral education and throughout his professional career has been on the development, implementation and evaluation of marketing programs and market driven research. He has created, implemented and evaluated large-scale market research programs, including a U.S. based research study profiling the preferences and usage patterns of red meat in the U.S.; an international beef quality audit; a multi-national pork competitiveness study and an international pork quality audit. His technical education paired with a strong technical marketing background provides a unique combination of attributes to evaluate and understand international market development needs and trends. Technical Solutions International has ongoing relationships with several U.S. based research institutions, including Colorado State University and Oregon State University, for the purpose of resource sharing and technology transfer. Furthermore, TSI has formed working alliances with several other independent companies with special emphasis on governmental reporting and traditional market research services, allowing for a more comprehensive package of services available to clients.
Dr. Neel has been responsible for coordinating and conducting over 30 trade teams to emerging markets around the world, as well as “reverse teams” of U.S. companies to foreign markets for trade activities, tours and food shows, resulting in an impressive network of contacts and a close familiarity with overseas business practices and cultures.
Rey O’Day - National Independent Concessionaires Association
Rey O’Day has extensive management experience in the fairs and festivals, food and beverage concessions, and entertainment industries. She currently teaches the Principles of Event Management as a UC Riverside Extension Instructor and serves as the Executive Director of NICA, a sister organization focused on developing vendor and event staff Communication Committees and advantaging its vendor members with the power of group discount buying.
Over a period of 18 years, she held a number of key management positions at Fairplex, home of the LA County Fair, including Assistant Operations Manager, Retail Sales Manager, Entertainment Manager, Director of Food and Beverage and General Manager of Cornucopia Foods, LLC
Ms. O ’Day gives keynote addresses and leads workshops for numerous organizations. She also conducts orientations and guest service training for organizations like The Hollywood Bowl and California Fairs Service Authority. She holds a California Community College Teaching Credential in Dance and a bachelor’s degree in business management.
Mike O’Neal – O’Neal Consulting
Mike O’Neal is a legal and governmental affairs consultant d/b/a O’Neal Consulting, LLC, having started this business after his retirement as CEO of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce in 2016.
Mike O’Neal was selected as the President & CEO of the Kansas Chamber after serving 28 years in the Kansas House of Representatives and serving two terms as the Speaker of the House. Mike chaired the House Judiciary Committee a total of 16 years, chaired the House Education Committee and twice chaired the House Redistricting Committee. He was at the forefront of all economic development and legal reform legislation since the mid80s and was a key player in legislative responses to school finance litigation for the past decade.
Mike earned his B.A. from the University of Kansas and his J.D. from the University of Kansas School of Law. He has served on the Board of Governors of the KU Law Society and practiced law in Hutchinson, Kansas from 1976-2012.
Mike is a graduate of Leadership Kansas, having been named Leadership Kansas Alumnus of the Year in 2009. He also has served on the Executive Committee of the National Speakers Conference, the Executive Committee of the Council of State Governments, the Executive Committee of the Council of State Chambers, the Kansas Judicial Council, Uniform Law Commission, Kansas Commission on Judicial Performance, Kansas Sentencing Commission, Team Kansas Board and KTEC Board. He currently serves on the Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG-Ks) Board, Kansas Business Hall of Fame Board and is a advisory board member to the Kansas Justice Institute. Honors include being named to Outstanding Young Men of America, Kansas/Missouri “Super Lawyers”, KBA “Making a Difference” award, Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in American Law and Who’s Who Among Emerging American Leaders.
Rick Pickering, CFE - California State Fair
Rick Pickering is the current general manager of the California State Fair located in Sacramento, California; he has served on the IAFE Board of Directors, representing Zone 8, and is a Certified Fair Executive.
Patrick Schoen, IFMG, Minnesota State Fair
Patrick Schoen has been in the human resources field for 12 years and has worked in the long-term care, IT management consulting and fair industries. He has served as the Human Resources Manager with the Minnesota State Fair since 2017 and has a passion to help both organizations and individuals grow and prosper. Patrick was the chair of the IAFE Human Resources Committee in 2022 and 2023 and graduated from the IAFE Institute of Fair Management in 2023. Patrick loves the fair industry because we do not compete with one another, and this allows us to collaborate and make each other better.
Brienne Schuette, IFMG, CFE - Moxie and Drive Marketing
Brienna Schuette is the founder of Moxie & Drive Marketing. Previously, she spent the majority of her career creating and executing strategic, multi-platform marketing plans for the Minnesota State Fair’s annual campaigns and special initiatives. As the youngest spokesperson in Minnesota State Fair history, Brienna conducted nearly 100 local radio, television and print interviews annually; was interviewed by all four Minneapolis/St. Paul national television network affiliates, plus the New York Times, Tonight Show, USA Today, Food Network and Travel Channel; and wrote hundreds of headlines and promotional pieces seen by millions.
Jim Sinclair, CFE - Minnesota State Fair
A native of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin,
Upon graduating from the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire in December 1973, Sinclair continued to work at the Northern Wisconsin State Fair until February of 1975, when he was hired by the Minnesota State Fair (St. Paul) as an administrative assistant responsible for development of the fair's early American theme area, Heritage Square. He was promoted to special events superintendent in charge of off-season special events and facility utilization on the exposition's more than 300-acre campus, which includes 12 multi-use activity buildings and a year-round Coliseum event complex. In 1978, he was named rental services supervisor charged with management of the fair's concession and exhibit rental operations, special attractions and carnival oversight. After serving in numerous positions at the fair Jim was named, in March 2006, Deputy General Manager. During his forty plus (40+) year tenure at the Minnesota State Fair, Sinclair has had numerous management responsibilities and undertaken multiple program and operational initiatives on behalf of the exposition. Sinclair is a Certified Fair Executive and 2012 graduate of the IAFE Institute of Fair Management.
Mark Sparks, IFMG -Triangle Talent
Mark currently serves as the Vice President/ Manager Triangle Talent Midwest Office. Mark is a recognized expert in programming grounds attractions. A Veteran performer, he has booked and produced grounds entertainment at more than 50 Fairs and venues across the country. Mark is an IAFE Institute of Fair Management graduate.
Jim Tucker - IAFE Legal Counsel
Jim Tucker is the past President and CEO of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions and currently serves as IAFE Legal counsel.
Tucker received a Bachelors in Agricultural Economics in 1970 and a law degree in 1973 from the University of Missouri. Following graduation, he practiced law in Columbia, Missouri and held a teaching position with the University of Missouri Department of Agricultural Economics. In 1974, Jim returned to the home farm and established a law firm in Springfield, Missouri, where he practiced, primarily as a trial lawyer until 2000. He has published numerous articles on law topics including agricultural law, which is of special interest to him.
Throughout his years of practicing law, Tucker remained actively involved in production agriculture. He, his wife, and two children, operate a diversified cow- calf and wheat farm on a Century farm Willard, Missouri.
In January 2001, Tucker assumed the role of President and C.E.O. of the IAFE, a former client. In that capacity he has forged relationships with many government and non-government organizations and interest groups directly and indirectly involved with agriculture, entertainment, concessions and event and venue management. He is a founding member of the alliance among the International Festival and Events Association, the International Association of Venue Managers, the IAFE, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, and the Outdoor Amusement Business Association.
Jordan Walker – Bondfire Strategy
Jordan Walker is the owner of Bondfire Strategy, focused on helping businesses cut through the clutter of marketing to align organizational goals to measurable marketing tactics. Professionally, she’s most known for her skills in customer experience strategy, marketing measurement and campaign optimization, but for Jordan her favorite part of her career is connecting with passionate leaders in our community .When she’s not at her desk analyzing the data, you might find her tilling dirt in her garden, getting off the grid at one of our national parks, or sitting on the patio of one of our fine local establishments reading a book.
Brett Whitaker - Fort Hays State University, KS
Dr. Brett Whitaker is an Assistant Professor and Chair of the Department of Leadership Studies at Fort Hays State University (FHSU). His research and teaching interests include global leadership, ethical leadership, leadership education, and organizational behavior and effectiveness. He holds a PhD in Global Leadership from Indiana Tech, and lives in Hays, KS with his lovely wife, Whitney. Perhaps most importantly, he was involved in 4-H for many years, during which he attended many county and state fairs, and was always grateful for the opportunities provided through those experiences.
Ryan Wilkerson - Haas and Wilkerson Insurance
Ryan was born and raised in Shawnee Mission, Kansas. After graduating from the University of Kansas with bachelor’s degrees in political science and communications, he joined the family business in 1999 as a sales executive in the commercial insurance division. In 2004, he succeeded his father, Bill Wilkerson, as president and CEO, becoming the third generation Wilkerson to direct the agency founded by his grandfather, Ralph Wilkerson. Under Ryan’s leadership, Haas & Wilkerson Insurance continues to grow and focus on delivering excellent customer service. Ryan is an active participant of the Young Presidents’ Organization International and the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers. He serves on the boards of the American Royal and Bank of Blue Valley. He’s been recognized as a NextGen Leader in the as well as 40 Under Forty and KC Rainmakers in magazine.