By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Cranford steps down as Stanislaus County Fair CEO
Matt Cranford
Studio209 interviews Matt Cranford before the 2021 Stanislaus County Fair. Cranford said coming back from the COVID closure was one of the most challenging parts of leading the Fair over the last seven years (FRANKIE TOVAR/The Journal).

After more than seven years serving as CEO of the Stanislaus County Fair, Matt Cranford is leaving his position to oversee facility operations at California Exposition and State Fair. As the Stan Co. Fair searches for a permanent replacement, concessions manager Kim Williams will serve as interim CEO.

Cranford said that the opportunities at the state level came fast, and that it was a unique opportunity that he felt couldn’t be turned down.

“It was actually a pretty quick turnaround,” he said. “I really wasn't looking to move. I love Turlock, I love the county and the community, and I love this area and the fairgrounds. It's my hometown fair. It's just an opportunity that I couldn't say no to.”

Cranford said the opportunity to help with the operations at the state fairgrounds is especially exciting considering the size of the faculties and the unique events that are typically held there.

“The state fair is on one of the biggest pieces of property, from multi-use facilities and events, horse racing, the waterpark on site, Sacramento Republic plays soccer there, so it's a big opportunity and I just I couldn't turn it down,” said Cranford, who grew up in Ceres and attended Stanislaus State.

Ray Souza is the Board president of the Stanislaus County Fair and spoke about Cranford’s resignation, which formally took place on Wednesday.

“We are excited and sad at the same time for Matt Cranford, as he will leave the Stanislaus County Fair at the end of December 2022,” Souza said in a statement. “Matt has been a huge part of the Turlock fairgrounds and will deeply be missed by his community and coworkers.”

Cranford shared some of his most fond memories of working in Turlock, including being able to participate in the popular destruction derby event in 2018.

“There was an extra motorhome available, so I hopped in the motorhome and drove, and it was great. It was an absolute blast. There were things flying in the air, debris everywhere, it was an absolute adrenaline rush. I loved that,” he said.

At the same time, Cranford reflected on some darker times, particularly when dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. From 2020 to 2021, the Fair operated at limited capacity, only hosting a handful of events under heavy restrictions. In its first year back this past July, the Fair recorded a record 270,447 guests.

“My proudest moment was definitely keeping the fair together and keeping the property in place through the COVID pandemic,” he said. “We were able to come back in a big way this year, and it was probably one of my hardest fairs I've ever done. It was a huge accomplishment from only having two employees to bringing everybody back and really going at it again.”

He made it a personal point of emphasis to attend most of the livestock shows this year.

Cranford admits that serving as CEO was not the easiest of jobs, but both he and Souza are confident in the abilities of Williams who will help guide the organization for the foreseeable future. Williams has a long history with the Stanislaus County Fair, first doing miscellaneous jobs in the 1990s and then becoming a permanent employee in the concession department in 2010.

“Kim has a lot of experience on site… she's grown up in the fair industry. She probably actually knows more about fairs than I ever will,” Cranford joked. “She is definitely proud and is getting ready to step in and guide the ship in the meantime. I’m confident that she will do an amazing job in this transition period.”

Souza shared similar sentiments, also citing her impressive background in fair operations.

“Kim’s experience of the fair and the operations of the facility will be a benefit as the board looks for a new CEO,” he said.

As Cranford prepares for his own transition in Sacramento, he gave an abundance of praise for those he worked alongside.

“It’s a fun and exciting time, but it definitely is bittersweet to leave in this group,” Cranford said. “We're a big family. Everyone comes out and has fun, laughing and joking. There are some tears along the way, but we fight like family we love like family. They welcomed me with open arms when I first came in and I hope to keep the relationship positive moving forward. I want to come back and see everybody. It’s definitely a good environment here.”