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Q&A: Bill Hageman, board president of World Dairy Expo

After a forced hiatus in 2020, the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin, returned in 2021. Pandemic uncertainties cast a long shadow up until the gates opened September 28.

As expected, attendance was lower than in previous years. Final show numbers indicate 48,502 people visited the 2021 show, down from 2019’s 62,240. Participating companies totaled 663, down from the 859 in 2019, largely due to travel restrictions linked to COVID-19. Several booths contained displays and brochures but not staff.

Bill Hageman, board president of World Dairy Expo, talks about the event’s return in 2021 and its future.

SF: How did World Dairy Expo work through the 2020 cancellation and make plans for 2021?

BH: In all the years of the show, we had never not been able to host the event. World Dairy Expo is unique in that it combines a leading dairy exposition, a world-class dairy cattle show, educational opportunities, and major youth dairy competitions in one event. It’s become a fixture for the industry. We couldn’t put this show on without the full support of the industry and the army of volunteers who help make the show successful. Coming into the 2021 show, we adjusted our expectations because we knew numbers would be down. We looked at the things we could control and put on the best show possible. Travel restrictions challenged the number of international visitors who could attend, who have in the past been a significant presence. Due to ExpoTV, many expo enthusiasts were able to join virtually.

SF: How do you think the pandemic will impact future shows?

BH: The past year has been a tremendous challenge for international visitors and exhibitors, as well as companies that continue to have travel restrictions. As travel restrictions ease, we expect visitor numbers to bounce back. Everyone is trying to envision what future shows will look like, with some going virtual. The feedback we have received is the dairy industry wants face-to-face shows. That opportunity still exists and will remain strong, and it’s why our success will be evaluated over several years.

SF: There seems to be true excitement that the show is back. What feedback have you received?

BH: The positive response has been tremendous. Our staff has always worked hard to ensure exhibitors and show participants feel connected to World Dairy Expo even when we aren’t gathered in Madison.

Without a show in 2020, that need for connection grew and created opportunities for additional engagement on social media and even a new podcast, The Dairy Show.

Expo has strived to be transparent from the beginning of the pandemic as we kept exhibitors and attendees updated. Our communication and collaboration have never been stronger because we had a lot of exhibitors who wanted to know what was happening. When it comes to the Trade Show, our Commercial Exhibitor Committee told us exhibitors were ready to come back. Many companies have reduced their footprint at farm shows, but the message we heard consistently was World Dairy Expo was where they were going to be. That tells us how important our show is to the industry.

SF: What’s new at the show, and why are these changes important for the future?

BH: We added a trade center to enhance our commercial exhibitor space. For the first time, the expo included educational offerings in Spanish. We’re particularly excited about the upgrade since it adds value for a diverse group of dairy owners, managers, and employees. The 54th event also saw major changes to The Tanbark, expo’s on-site bar and restaurant. The space was transformed to host banquets, morning Tanbark Talks, nightly happy hours, and even the Sunset Celebration concert on Friday evening. Having it as a centralized hub for networking, entertainment, and education is a valuable asset as the expo continues to be the place where the global dairy industry meets.

Expo also increased the number of Knowledge Nook Sessions this year, added new features to its mobile event app for easy navigation of the expo, and launched Career Connections, a networking event for hiring companies and job seekers.

SF: How will you modify offerings in the future?

BH: We want to continue satisfying the needs of all stakeholders, from the companies and dairy cattle show exhibitors investing their time and resources here to the visitors and youth who travel the globe to attend the expo. Moving forward, we are adjusting our event schedule in 2022 to a Sunday through Friday event that includes a day for youth contests, a five-day dairy cattle show, and a four-day trade show alongside educational and networking opportunities throughout the week. This change is monumental in our continued mission of being the must-attend event for everyone in the global dairy industry, and it’s that mission that will continue driving World Dairy Expo forward for years to come.

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