Friends are already asking Kent Yelverton for free passes to the N.C. State Fair.

"I expect I will have many more," he said. "But more than passes, parking passes. Parking passes are the big thing.

"That's why I ride a shuttle bus. So anyone who wants a parking pass, I will say you can ride the shuttle bus with me."

A Fremont native, Yelverton has just been appointed by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler as the new manager of the North Carolina State Fair.

Yelverton replaces Wesley Wyatt, who retired after 38 years of state service.

"I am always pleased to have well-qualified and dedicated staff members step into new leadership roles at the department," Troxler said. "I am confident that Kent's background in civil engineering will bring a skillset to the day-to-day operations of the state fairgrounds that will be very valuable.

"In his previous role with our property and construction division, he worked side-by-side with fair administration to develop our current fairgrounds footprint, so he knows the facilities well and is focused on year-round operational growth."

Yelverton, 53, is the son of Lee Yelverton of Fremont, and the late David Yelverton, who died in 2006.

"That is when I came back to Wayne County," he said. "I live on the family farm. I am in the family homeplace. It is a long commute, and moving out to the fairgrounds makes it a little bit longer. But that's OK."

Yelverton served on the Wayne County committee that spearheaded the efforts to build the new Maxwell Regional Agricultural and Convention Center that opened Thursday.

A 1982 graduate of Charles B. Aycock High School, Yelverton has worked for 26 years with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

He began his career in 1992 as a consulting engineer, before successive promotions to facility agricultural engineer, engineering director and director of the property and construction division.

Yelverton earned a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering from N.C. State University and is a registered North Carolina professional engineer.

He jokes that he is not certain how he went from engineering to running the state fairgrounds.

"I started out doing engineering projects at farmers markets and our ag centers, capital improvement projects," he said. "I moved up into overseeing our capital program and have been heavily involved in the improvements that we have made at the state fairgrounds.

"I have assisted out there in operational decisions in working with the commissioner in making decisions about how to improve the fairgrounds and move it forward. When Wesley decided to retire, he felt like it was a good move for me to go out there and become manager."

Yelverton's previous job has not been filled, so he is filling dual roles.

"I am primarily at the fairgrounds now getting my feet on the ground, getting to know my staff better," he said. "I already knew them well, but I am getting oriented to those things that I didn't deal with every day before."

Most people probably do not realize how big an operation the fairgrounds is, he said.

A flea market operates 48 weekends out of the year and is a huge draw to the fairgrounds, Yelverton said.

"Every day and every weekend there are events," he said. "We have 500 events a year in the facilities. We have more people visit the fairgrounds non-fair time than we do during fair time.

"That is the part that I am excited about. The fair is great and will continue to grow and develop. But year-round I want people, when they are thinking about what they are going to do on the weekend, look at the calendar and see what is going on at the fairgrounds."

People who visit the fairgrounds can do two or three different things in one place and visit the flea market, he said.

A huge thing for the fairgrounds next week, the N.C. Department of Transportation is breaking ground on a pedestrian tunnel that will connect the fairgrounds to Carter-Finley Stadium.

"It is a great addition. It is a great safety addition," he said. "But it will change how people will get to the fairgrounds, especially during the fair. A large part of our parking is at the stadium, so we have got to look at how we bring people into the fairgrounds.

"That side of the fairgrounds is going to change. That is my first opportunity to change something. That is our highest used gate, and we've got to figure out how to get those people in and give them that experience as they enter the fairgrounds."

Yelverton said he likes to point out that the fairgrounds is a self-supporting organization, that no state budget general fund monies go into the operation of the fair.

"Our receipts are what support the fair," he said.

A couple of years ago, the General Assembly did appropriate money for a new roof on Dorton Arena, he said.

It has 80 full-time employees plus a number of part-time help including its own police force, auto mechanics and tradespeople.

"We have a lot of folks, but we do a lot of things," Yelverton said.

The 344-acre North Carolina State Fairgrounds is a year-round multi-use entertainment venue located on Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh.

Operating as an N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services enterprise division, the fairgrounds hosts more than 2.5 million visitors at 500 events annually, including the facility's premier event, the 11-day N.C. State Fair in October.

This year's fair runs Oct. 11 to 21.

"I have been around the fair for many years now," Yelverton said. "It comes natural to be there. I grew up on a farm. I live on a farm. My job is in the middle of Raleigh, but I am serving agriculture, and that is what drew me to the Department of Agriculture.

"That is exciting to me because it is a business, and I have the opportunity to run it as a business."