Fair work is a family affair
Friday, September 20, 2019
It’s a family affair for the provider of midway amusements at this year’s Pitt County American Legion Agricultural Fair.
For five generations, Powers Great American Midways (PGAM) has been thrilling fair attendees with their rides, games and confections.
As one of the largest family-owned companies in the country, PGAM has served as the entertainment provider at the Pitt County Fair for the past six years.
Thhe company is 40 years old and is entering its fifth generation, said Marc Janas, public relations director for PGAM.
He grew up immersed in carnival life.
“I was born and raised in it,” he said. “I love the people. I love the different places we go — the regional foods. I’ve gotten to know people in different areas of the country and have formed life-long relationships. I look forward to seeing them each time”.
Many of those employed by the company are family — or feel like they are, he said.
Besides blood relatives, the company also hires foreign seasonal workers, many of whom return to PGAM year after year, keeping in touch during the off-season.
Nonimmigrant workers from places such as Mexico and South Africa are granted temporary work visas through a program called H-2B.
H-2B visa permits employers to hire foreign workers to come to the United States temporarily and perform temporary nonagricultural services or labor on a one-time, seasonal, peak load or intermittent basis, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
One of the benefits for these workers is the foreign exchange rate they receive on their money when they return home.
In South Africa, one rand is equal to $1. With the current exchange rate, they receive 15 rand for every dollar they make. This gives workers the opportunity to save, travel or go to college when they return home.
Some workers come for only one or two seasons, but many come back for six or seven, Janas said.
PGAM offers jobs to Americans, but Janas sees the labor pool shrinking.
Many only want to work in their hometowns, not travel, he said. This poses a unique problem for a company that is constantly moving on to the next location.
Having family members as coworkers works well, but foreign workers help fill in the gaps.
Janas is nephew to PGAM owners Corky and Debbie Powers. His co-workers include his aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, along with his wife and children.
“This is not a lifestyle — its your life,” he said.
Janas grew up on the midway, when the company was smaller and more regional. Now PGAM serves venues all over the northeastern seaboard, including the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh.
The fair season begins in March and ends in November. During the off season, Janas attends state and national seminars on safety and trade shows showcasing the latest in food, games and rides.
As a child, Janas was able to attend private schools in Rochester, N.Y., but as he got older and the company grew larger, his own children were schooled on the road.
He said it all started back in the 1950s, when his great-grandparents had a hot dog stand at the Rochester Lilac Festival. PGAM returns each year to the 127-year-old festival where it all began.
The company grew into a regional carnival with 12 rides, to more than 100 eventually.
Janas said safety is of highest concern.
“We try to maintain a high degree of safety and cleanliness,” he said. “We also take a lot of pride in keeping things fresh for the public. We are here to create memories. We want to keep the atmosphere family friendly.”
For South African friends Yolanda Janse Van Vuuren and Mone Jansen Van Vuuren, the company offers them a way to see the world. They save their money and travel in the off season. The girls are two of about 15 South Africans traveling with PGMA.
Both live in Johannesburg, although Mone is originally from Durban. This is the sixth year of returning for both of them.
Their favorite place in America is New York City. What they miss most when they return to their county are Target and Amazon.com. Although some things are available from Amazon, the shipping rates are cost prohibitive.
Their native language is Afrikaans, but they’ve learned to speak English well.
“Traveling is the best part about it,” said Yolanda. “It is an opportunity to meet new people and experience a different culture.
'I love everyone here. It is just like family,” she said.