BUFFALO, NY - It’s as if Jessica L. (Gernatt) Underberg ‘98 was born for her job as CEO and fair manager at the Erie County Fairgrounds.
She grew up on her family’s dairy farm in Collins, NY, the oldest of six children and showed livestock such as 4-H cattle and pigs at the Erie County Fair more than 30 years ago. Those years of growing up have formed the foundation for Underberg’s understanding of the agricultural life and the constant hard work involved.
“On the family farm, we were taught that you choose to be miserable or happy,” Underberg recalls. “You do your work until it’s done and you do it right the first time. It’s an attitude I encourage every day with my team at the Fairgrounds.”
Appointed CEO last fall by the Erie County Agricultural Society (ECAS), sponsors of the Erie County Fair, Underberg had been assistant fair manager for the last 10 years. In her current role, she leads a staff of 50 full-time, 15 part-time and some 500 seasonal employees who manage a wide range of year-round events and attractions at the 270-acre Fairground complex. Among them are Buffalo Raceway, Hamburg Gaming, Fairground Festival of Lights, an event center, and of course, the yearly Erie County Fair.
A resident of Springville, where she lives with her husband and two daughters, Underberg has a long history at the Erie County Fairgrounds. She began working there part-time in 1996 while pursuing her degree in social sciences from Canisius. Underberg has since held positions in nearly every office and department of the Fairgrounds during her 20-plus years there.
Now in her role as CEO, Underberg is taking a fresh look at the big picture.
“Fairs evoke wonderful memories and emotion for people: the sight of the Ferris wheel, the smell of the fresh hay and farm animals of all kinds,” Underberg says. “The Erie County Fair is all about the experience and we strive to offer a hands-on experience in an increasingly digital world.”
Visitors to the fairgrounds this year will see many recent physical changes to the campus including new buildings and new venues for family entertainment and education. Underberg and her team are working to introduce ideas and events, and enhance the well-loved fair traditions that keep families returning every year.
“It’s like managing 12 Bills home games in less than two weeks,” Underberg says, noting that attendance in 2017 topped one million. “That demonstrates just how popular the county fair remains in Western New York after nearly 180 years.”