The Wilson County Commission received its first in-person update from the Farm Bureau Expo Center director during its monthly meeting Monday night.
Farm Bureau Expo Center Director Gayle Hibbert gave the commission an update about how the center has managed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hibbert, who joined the center in May, said the COVID-19 pandemic created some obstacles for her and the expo center staff to overcome as the year continued.
“That was a big challenge and big hurdle to have to get over, and so we overcame that by communication and education — talking to our event planners and working with them,” said Hibbert, who said the key was to inform vendors about how they could safely have events or determine if they couldn’t be done in a safe manner. “All of our events that’s we’ve had since June have had greater attendance than expected, with the exception of two. That’s phenomenal.”
In October, the expo center exceeded last year’s events attendance numbers, according to Hibbert, marking the first time that’s happened since the pandemic began.
Hibbert said 80 percent of events cancelled in 2020 have rebooked for dates in 2021, with the few exceptions being birthdays, anniversary events and other events with a yearly significance.
“We worked with them. We listened to them. We communicated with them, and it made a difference,” said Hibbert, who also noted there is only one open weekend on the expo center’s calendar for 2021.
Hibbert said some of the success could be attributed to other venues around the state, mainly in Davidson County, that have remained closed or unable to have events due to the pandemic. She said the Farm Bureau Expo Center has booked 18 new multi-day, multi-year events through 2023, and 20 new single-day events that may not take place over multiple years.
She said she’s noticed a shift in peoples’ attitudes about masks, which has helped the center have positive and safe events.
“The momentum has shifted from, ‘I don’t want to wear a mask,’ to, ‘If you’re not wearing one, I’m not coming in.’ I think that says something about how our standard has led in the way in how we manage our events,” Hibbert said.
Hibbert also discussed the center’s rebranding, which included a name change from the Wilson County Expo Center in August and an updated website (farmbureauexpo.com.).
“We went through an extensive process to give ourselves a new look, a new feel,” she said.