Company turns carnivals into big business - WDAM-TV 7-News, Weather, Sports-Hattiesburg, MS


Company turns carnivals into big business

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A Mississippi company has turned wild

carnival rides, midway games and food stands into big business.

North American Midway Entertainment is the world's largest

portable carnival company with more than $3.5 billion in equity.

The Ridgeland-based company is at the Mississippi State Fair this

week. North American Midway Entertainment sends crews, games and

rides to 20 states and four Canadian provinces annually.

"We don't play favorites, but we always enjoy coming home,"

said Mike Williams, chief executive of North American Midway


The multi-faceted company grew out of Farrow Shows, a

20-employee, family-run carnival company based in Jackson. Williams

worked summers for Farrow Shows while he earned a computer science

degree at Mississippi State University.

"My senior year, 1975, the owner, Ernie Farrow, asked me if I'd

come run it for him. I married his daughter and in 1982 bought the

company," Williams said. "Back in those days, we did business in

about seven or eight states, in the South and Midwest."

The move that made North American Midway the industry giant came

in 2004.

Williams and Fred Rosen of Ticketmaster put together a deal to

buy four amusement companies. The Cypress Group, a Manhattan-based

venture capital firm, backed them to the tune of nearly $100

million, Williams said. Since then, Williams added two more

carnival companies and employs about 3,000 people, many of whom

work the nine- or 10-month carnival season.

Through the carnival industry's 120-plus-year history, two

hallmarks remain: road-hardened showmanship and the tradition of

family ownership.

"They work hard and travel far," said Bob Johnson, president

of the Florida-based Outdoor Amusement Business Association.

"Typically carnivals are family owned and passed down. Some are

now in their fourth and fifth generations."

Johnson estimates about 350 carnival companies operate in the

U.S. and Canada. What sets North American Midway apart, he said, is

the scope of its business strategy - family oriented but in a

modern, big-business way. "It was the first ever, the first of its

kind. They buy a carnival and issue new stock in the parent company

so the owners stay with the companies and they continue to manage

and run the operations," he said.

Besides the Mississippi State Fair, North American Midway has

set up at the Calgary Stampede, Indiana State Fair, Miami-Dade

County Fair and South Carolina State Fair.

It operates at 10 of North America's top 50 fairs, uses a fleet

of more than 250 trucks and trailers, operates a traveling school,

hauls generators to produce its own electricity, and has storage

and refurbishing facilities in Mississippi, Texas, Indiana,

Illinois and two in Florida.

"It's been a cash business. There are a lot of guys who operate

as top-line kind of guys who look at the large, gross income but at

the end of a season don't have anything left in the bag," Johnson

said. "But it's big business now. Most large carnivals have a

(chief financial officer), they pay their taxes and they're on the

up and up."


Information from: The Clarion-Ledger,

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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