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Wholesale show Aug. 23-24

Mississippi Market growing up with fifth-annual event

JACKSON — With nationally-known exhibitors, triple the sponsorship and a show that has physically doubled in size, this week’s Mississippi Market is expected to draw in more buyers than ever before to promote Mississippi-made goods.

The fifth-annual Mississippi Market, scheduled Aug. 23-24 in Jackson, has attracted 121 exhibitors to date, almost 50 more than last year. The wholesale trade show exclusively promotes Mississippi-made goods to buyers, including gourmet foods such as pepper sauces and cookies, handpainted furniture, scented candles, handmade jewelry and other Mississippi-made products and services.

Joining the show for the first time this year is the internationally-known Country Originals, a Jackson manufacturer of home furnishings and garden accessories. Company president and CEO Doug Williams said he decided to exhibit this year to support the Market, but also to attract more business close to home. Country Originals works showrooms at national shows in Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas and other large cities, but some Mississippi buyers cannot attend these shows.

“Our business in Mississippi has picked up considerably in the past year, and we want to give buyers who don’t get the opportunity to go to these national shows a chance to see our products,” said Williams, whose 14-year-old company now has more than 10,000 active retail stores in the U.S. and abroad.

Williams said he felt it was important to support this local show, which was created five years ago by the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development (MDECD) to help start-up and well-established Mississippi businesses find buyers for their products.

In planning this year’s show, MDECD associate manager Jenny Wilkinson said she found there was a lot of camaraderie among Mississippi businesses to make the Market a success. This is apparent in the significant increase in backers — this year’s show has 27 sponsors compared to last year’s nine.

“(Larger companies) want to help these smaller companies,” she said. “They know that it’s going to help them, it’s going to help other companies, and help the state.”

That support and an increased interest in the show have produced the largest Market yet. To accommodate the new exhibitors, the show’s floor space will expand from one bay to two at the Mississippi Trade Mart where the show is held each year. The wide variety of exhibitors is expected to draw more buyers — about 850 are expected to attend from states as far as Illinois and Missouri.

Wilkinson attributes the growth in exhibitors to the many trips she and other MDECD staff made around the state to spread the word about the Market.

“We visited a lot of chambers and economic development offices, anyone we could think of to help us get the word out. We went into stores and invited them personally,” she said. “We clarified that this show helps the entire state.”

They also explained that the Market is not just for small and fledgling businesses. Well-established companies like the Mississippi Cheese Straw Factory in Yazoo City and the Indianola Pecan House in Indianola continue to exhibit, and the addition of Country Originals brings instant credibility to the roster, said MDECD executive director J.C. Burns.

One new exhibitor is Green Acres, a McComb business run by Mel and Esther Witmer and their son, Gerald. The Witmers started their jams and jellies business in February and manufacture 15 different kinds, including red raspberry and strawberry rhubarb. “We use more fruit than most folks do,” said Mel Witmer.

The Mississippi Market is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 23, and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 24. It is only open to retailers and buyers. There is no charge to attend, but buyers who have not pre-registered must bring credentials to enter.

During the show, buyers will have a chance to win door prizes, including a $1,300 copier provided by Copy Graphics. WorldCom and the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce will host an office center so attendees can stay in touch with the office while at the show.

For more information about the Market, call 1-888-886-3323 or visit the Web site at www.mississippimarket.org.

Contact MBJ staff writer Kelly Russell at kelly@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1027.

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