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Organizers plan on making milestone show special for exhibitors, attendees

Pine Belt Expo gearing up for 10-year anniversary

HATTIESBURG — The Great Pine Belt Exposition will celebrate its 10th anniversary this year on Aug. 10-11 at the Payne Center on the USM campus. The show has become something of a local institution, many religiously marking it on their calendar to attend or exhibit each year as part of the area’s annual business cycle. So, organizers this year are planning on making this first-decade anniversary show something special.

“Definitely,” said Annie McMillan, business finance manager for the Area Development Partnership (ADP) which puts on the trade show, when asked if the 2000 version was scheduling extra features and offerings and expecting increases in both participants and exhibitors to celebrate the 10-year mark. “We’re planning more offerings such as recognition of USM officials for their development and support of the Pine Belt Expo over the past 10 years, more seminars and adding to the amenities of the popular Taste of the Pine Belt. And we’re expecting to top last year in attendees. Cindy (Jefcoat) did a great job last year, and we’re excited about what’s being planned for this year’s show.”

Jefcoat, who once more is serving as chairperson for the Pine Belt Expo, said her goal is to trump last year’s success in quantity and quality. That’s a tall order considering in 1999 the show sold out of booths, added a number of first-time happenings and had the most eateries at the Taste of the Pine Belt than ever in the event’s history.

“We want this show to be the best ever, and I personally have a goal of topping last year,” Jefcoat said. “We’re still working out the details on a lot of new events and services, but I’m sure we’ll sell out of booths again. We’re planning to have the biggest and most successful Pine Belt Expo ever.”

In fact, one new offering will be made before the show even begins. The groundwork is being laid for a couple of seminars, aimed at ADP members and Pine Belt Expo exhibitors, focused on the fundamentals of effective trade show marketing.

“The seminars will cover everything, from proper booth design and etiquette to effective follow-up techniques and strategies,” said Southern Eye Center’s marketing director Leigh Ann Underwood, who will lead the seminars. “Some of the information will be basic stuff, such as don’t sit down at your booth. Companies that participate in a lot of shows may know those kinds of things, but others, especially small businesses which may only do the Pine Belt Expo each year, don’t. The idea is to get the most bang for your trade show buck.”

The festivities will begin Aug. 10 at the Payne Center with the traditional after-hours networking event the Taste of the Pine Belt. Running from 5:30 p.m.-7 p.m., the invitation-only function features local restaurateurs’ fare and an opportunity for ADP members, specially-invited guests and vendors to mingle and to preview booths.

Last year, a record dozen caterers and eateries participated. Jefcoat said she was hoping to have perhaps 14 food vendors on hand this year, and over 2,000 invitations are being mailed. In all, some 3,000 folks are expected to enjoy the food and live musical entertainment.

The exhibition floor opens to the public on Aug. 11 at 10 a.m. Last year, the show contained 126 booths. That number will not be surpassed because that is the Payne Center’s capacity. Both McMillan and Jefcoat were confident that all 126 booths will be occupied at show time.

Last year, about 3,500 visitors passed through the show’s doors. While McMillan said an obvious goal is to have more traffic at this year’s program, she said organizers are also focused on the quality of the attendees.

“We’re charging $3 for adults and $1 for children at the door this year,” McMillan said. “We’re trying to cut down on the number of people who come just to get free pens and pencils.”

Some high-ticket door prizes were given away last year by drawing. That will be continued this year, and as an added bonus those dropping their names in the box will be compiled into a database by the ADP and supplied to exhibitors immediately after the show.

Exhibitors are already lining up. At press time, the show had sold 100 booths. Most of the regulars are coming back again.

“It’s a great way to support the community and the ADP, and allows us to present our products and services to people who we might not be able to see otherwise,” said Kemi Simmons of Grand Bank for Savings.

Underwood echoed Simmons’ answer, and said Southern Eye Center would once again offer free pre-screenings and showcase laser vision correction.

Cellular One, known for its zany and creative booths and themes, promised this year to be a memorable one. But it’s being tight-lipped on specifics.

“We’ll have to top last year’s tropical theme. Maybe it will involve food — I don’t know,” said Ernestine Penland, director of sales and marketing. “But there will be an announcement that will be the biggest ever in the history of Cellular One, and maybe the biggest ever in the history of the Pine Belt Expo.”

For more information or to reserve a booth, call McMillan at (601) 296-7500.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1016.

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