Mark Clarke expected to spend his career working around animals after he graduated from UW-River Falls with a degree in animal science, but each successive job took him further from that goal.
“I’m doing nothing with my degree now,” said Clarke, executive director of the Alliant Energy Center.
But there’s no question that Clarke’s experience working in animal-related businesses has played a big role in making the Alliant Center profitable again despite its aging facilities.
Besides continuing to host the World Dairy Expo, which is taking place this week, and the Midwest Horse Fair, the Alliant Center has added a third megashow — the CrossFit Games — upped its livestock shows from eight to 20 and increased its number of concerts at the Dane County Coliseum.
Clarke, who grew up in rural Janesville, began his career as an independent contractor breeding cows for the American Breeders Service in DeForest. After nine years, he moved on to head the the U.S. headquarters for a Netherlands-based transgenic cloning company, Pharming Healthcare, that made pharmaceutical drugs from the protein of cow’s milk. It also was located in DeForest and worked closely with ABS.
Pharming Healthcare closed its U.S. office after the Food and Drug Administration decided not to approve drugs from cloned animals, Clarke said. “At the time, it was a little controversial,” he said.
Clarke moved on to BouMatic, an ag manufacturing company in Madison, where he was a product manager in charge of all of the milk harvest equipment. He also filled BouMatic’s director’s seat on the World Dairy Expo Board, which led to him becoming general manager of the World Dairy Expo in 2007. The Dairy Expo enjoyed steady growth under Clarke’s direction and it also took giant steps to improve its biosecurity protocol.
Clarke said he understood the challenges ahead when he became Alliant Center’s executive director in November 2012. Dane County owns the center but doesn’t provide it with any tax dollars, and Clarke was told to make it self-sufficient, though many of its buildings are aging or inefficient.
His first task was to create a plan to replace the aging barns, and the $24 million New Holland Pavilions that opened in 2014 have been a great success, partly because they turned Alliant Center into a year-round venue.
“I knew we could get the Pavilion thing done and that was a big piece of the puzzle and then we’d have to go on to the next piece, whether it’s (replacing or renovating) the Coliseum or (expanding) the Exhibition Hall,” Clarke said.
Cite one of the changes you made to make the Alliant Center more efficient.
It’s the little stuff. Like you have to have the right equipment so the staff can do their jobs correctly. That had been really neglected and I saw that really quick. We had seven forklifts but four were in the shop and we were renting forklifts. So we weren’t efficient and we were paying overtime because we didn’t have the equipment to do it right.
Explain why the Quilt Expo is as important to the Alliant Center as the Dairy Expo.
When you have an event that has livestock, there’s a lot that is out of my control. What if there’s a tuberculosis outbreak in the state and no animals are allowed into the state? That makes it a risky show. The risk with Quilt Expo and those kind of shows is much, much less. The bottom line is that you have to manage your event portfolio so that it’s diverse enough to cover whatever emergencies pop up.