While the World Dairy Expo celebrated its amazing growth during its 50th anniversary show that ended Saturday night, its leaders are now focused on future shows that could expand beyond the boundaries of the Alliant Energy Center.

Show leaders will spend the next several months creating a long-term plan that will include making sure it has a say on any future changes at the 164-acre Alliant Energy Center site and potentially looking off-site for seminars, tours and business meeting sites for attendees, according to general manager Scott Bentley.

“We have no expectations whatsoever that we will be making changes but we want to be open-minded to what those changes might be and what the investments might be to ensure a successful next decade of the World Dairy Expo,” Bentley said.

The Expo, the 27th largest trade show of any kind held in the United States, is the biggest money maker for the Dane County-owned Alliant Energy Center and has a direct and indirect economic impact on the area of $50.2 million annually.

However, the show that draws about 75,000 attendees annually, also has maxed out its space at the Alliant Energy Center and has been frustrated with a lack of solutions. For instance, it has a long waiting list of commercial exhibitors that could increase the show’s profitability but it can’t add more tents for them on the grounds because parking is at such a premium that it already shuttles in many attendees from remote parking areas at hotels and shopping malls.

Also, leaders from international organizations and companies spend much of their time during Expo week away from the Alliant Energy Center negotiating deals at places like the Governor’s Conference Room at the State Capitol, the Monona Terrace, the state Department of Agriculture, the Trade and Consumer Protection offices and in hotel conference rooms around Madison.

“There are a lot of meetings off-site and probably more off-site seminars than on-site in some respects. It’s just not going on under the direct umbrella of the World Dairy Expo,” Bentley said.

The Expo’s contract with the county and the Alliant Energy Center is in the fourth year of a 10-year contract and there also is an additional five-year option that ensures that it will stay there until nearly 2030, Bentley said.

There is “measured optimism, measured concern” among World Dairy Expo leaders as they watch county officials debate plans for the future of Alliant Energy Center site that will impact the show, Bentley said.

Potential plans include demolishing the aging Dane County Coliseum for a new multi-purpose facility and replacing the parking lots and areas used by the show for tents and other outside activities with hotels, retail shops, restaurants and parking ramps.

Also, it’s possible that Madison will take control of the Alliant Energy Center at the end of this year if an amendment is approved that will move up the city’s planned annexation of the property in 2022.

“We will be engaged along the way,” Bentley said. “We want to have a voice and we want our voice to be heard. We don’t have to attend all of the listening sessions and meet all of the consultants, but we think our show brings a lot to the community and that venue has held our show for 50 years. There’s a long-time, long-term partnership and we want to work together as best we can to maintain it.”

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi believes the World Dairy Expo should have a say on the future plans of the Alliant Energy Center. He also has no qualms with the show moving beyond the Center’s boundaries.

“I think it would be great for visibility,” Parisi said. “There are still some people who don’t know the impact the World Dairy Expo has. Everything they do benefits our region and as they continue to grow and even spread out, I think it’s a wonderful way to spread the word.”

Show leaders creating the long-term planning initiative will look at potential changes to all phases of the business, expansion to new areas and whether the Expo’s 11-employee staff can continue to wedge all of the activities into a five-day show, Bentley also said.

“We don’t want to be limited by artificial time and barriers,” Bentley said.

The show could go back to holding official on-farm tours and seminars that were ended years ago for biosecurity reasons and creating better places under the auspices of the Expo for attendees to conduct meetings than the off-site places they are currently using, Bentley said.

“We have people coming in from all over the world and they are already getting out on farms, getting to meetings off-site, conducting commerce on their own all over the state, which we fully embrace,” he said. “We just want to ensure that we are providing a platform for our attendees and exhibitors ... to maximize their opportunities associated with World Dairy Expo. We want to look at whatever that might be.”


Rob Schultz has won multiple writing awards at the state and national levels and covers an array of topics for the Wisconsin State Journal in south-central and southwestern Wisconsin.