Five candidates are in the running to head Farm Technology Days, Inc. a position from which Ron Schuler will retire at the end of the 2013 show.
Schuler, a retired professor of agricultural engineering (now called biological systems engineering) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, had handled the field demonstrations for the annual farm show for years and took over management of the organization when the general manager left a few years ago.
Now the board is poised to select his replacement. John Shutske, chairman of the FTD, Inc., board, told Wisconsin State Farmer that the process of selecting a new general manager began this time last year because they knew Schuler would be retiring at the end of the 2013 show.
"We had 40 candidates who were interested and we interviewed five very, very good candidates last week."
Those candidates included Maria McGinnis, who now holds a position at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Chuck Maenner, who with his wife Anna helps manage exhibitor space for the show each year; Scott Sanford, who now helps with field demonstrations; Bill Eichelberg, a sales manager for Madison hotels; and Matt Glewen, the retired county agent from Calumet County.
Each of the five applicants were given 15 minutes to talk about their vision for the show going into the future. "We are really looking for someone who can continue the tradition and culture of this show but also modernize it with new technology and education," Shutske said.
Shutske talked about the general manager selection process during a break in a multi-county informational meeting held in Plover Dec. 7 for all county committee volunteers for each of the upcoming shows.
"It is a beloved show and we want it to grow. It is the draw for the state of Wisconsin," said Shutske. "We also know there is a lot of local economic development."
It's no small task, he said, to get 1,500 volunteers to work together on a project of this size and each year it's a different group of people as the show moves from county to county.
He hinted that the subject of finding a permanent home for the show is still an open discussion on the FTD board.
"At the same time we know industry is taking a big risk. If it rains two days it doesn't help them."
Even though Wisconsin experienced its worst drought in 25 years, the FTD show near New London in Outagamie County was plagued with bad weather that kept people off the grounds two of the three days last summer.
Exhibitors are the ones who continue to drive the discussion on creating a permanent site for the show where bad weather wouldn't cripple the show because there would be facility improvements like paving and drainage.
Shutske said management is still trying to sort that out. "We know there are strong community connections made through moving the show every year, but the exhibitors really are the cash vendors."
Each show is run by a local group of volunteers, including a county executive board and the county UW-Extension agent who acts as executive secretary. But Farm Technology Days, Inc. is the entity that manages all the upcoming shows and provides guidance to each county.
The state board, said Shutske, ensures the continuity and quality of the show from year to year. That board includes people who represent machinery companies who exhibit at the show as well as former host farms and everything in between.
There are 12 voting members on the board as well as a number of non-voting members who represent the federal farm agencies. An executive board of four members helps steer the course of the organization.
The new general manager will begin part-time in January and shadow Schuler up through the 2013 show in Barron County and will attend most of the county meetings. That person, says Shutske, will also develop templates for how things need to be done for future shows by picking Schuler's brain.
"There is a lot of information that's stored in the general manager's head."
The new general manager will also spend a lot of time talking with past and future host counties about what could or should be done with the show.
After the 2013 show, the new general manager will take over full-time from Schuler. The announcement is expected soon on who will get the job.
"We recognize 2013 as a very important transition year."