Minnesota State Fair gets new chief executive

By Gustav DeMars

The Minnesota State Fair will be soon celebrating its 2023 run with a new chief executive officer.

But its new leader, Renee Alexander, vows the traditions of the Great Minnesota Get-Together, which will be held from Aug. 24 to Sept. 4, won’t disappear.

Notwithstanding a newly renovated entrance and upgraded Grandstand concessions, Alexander said fairgoers can expect the fair to stick true to its beloved past.

“I’m not here to turn things upside down and do things completely different,” Alexander said. “We have a great institution, I mean it’s a history of 160 plus years. That means a lot to a lot of people. We as the staff really look at ourselves as the stewards of that.”

Alexander said while fairgoers shouldn’t expect to see any major changes this year at the fair, there are a couple new wrinkles.

The fair is revamping the entrance on Como Avenue on the south side of the fairgrounds, making that gate more welcoming by widening the sidewalks, removing turnstiles and adding amenities like stroller and wheelchair rentals.

“That’s one piece that we’re doing that will add a nicer entrance into the fairgrounds,” Alexander said.

In the coming year, fairgoers can also expect to see an art installation at the gate, Alexander added.

Another change: A new operator will be running concessions at the Grandstand. She said they’ve built five new structures, expanding where people can buy food.

“It’ll just be a nice addition and provide a better customer service experience for those who attend concerts,” Alexander said. “Hopefully shorter lines and easier access to food and beverage.”

Meanwhile, the safety of fairgoers continues to be a priority, Alexander said. Like last year, the fair will use its own police department, which hires officers from around the state for the 12 days the fair runs.

For Alexander, working for the fair isn’t new.

She started at the State Fair as an intern in the amusements department, which is in charge of the free entertainment at the fair.

Alexander said in her senior year of college she was hired full time and went on to spend five years working for the fair. After leaving the fair for 11 years, working as a talent agent and corporate planner, she eventually returned.

Eighteen years ago, Fair officials hired Alexander as entertainment director.

“This time I’m not leaving,” Alexander said about getting named as the fair’s new CEO.

When former CEO Jerry Hammer stepped down, Alexander said she threw her hat in the ring and emerged successful. That the fair made an internal hire indicates its leadership feels the fair is headed in the right direction, she said.

Alexander said she’s still in contact with Hammer, someone she calls a mentor. One of her takeaways from Hammer’s time as CEO was the importance of tradition and guest experience.

“Just knowing what a tremendous responsibility it is to sit in this chair and know you are responsible for the care of this beloved institution,” Alexander said.

Focusing on the fair’s traditions while looking for new additions is a big consideration, according to Alexander.

“It’s really a balance,” Alexander said. “It’s about making sure we honor and maintain those traditions that are so important to people, but also peppering in some new things as well.” 

Gustav DeMars is a fourth-year journalism student at the University of Minnesota’s Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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