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
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
"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.)