There were large and small companies among the 95 businesses exhibiting at the recent Hancock County Chamber’s 7th Annual Business & Industry Expo, and they represented the county’s wide diversity. Exhibit space was maxed out and at least 1,000 people came through the Hancock County Civic Center where the event was held, according to chamber executive director Tish Williams.
“It was successful,” she said. “It’s a powerful event and works well for vendors because it’s a short time span and packs a lot of people in. It’s good for our members, too. It’s the only time businesses have to connect with other businesses and showcase their businesses.”
She added that the expo has a giant houseparty feel to it that people enjoy, and the chamber is already looking forward to next year’s expo.
“Every year it’s a sellout as soon as we put out the word and we can’t take another booth,” she said.
The houseparty atmosphere included music, food and drink samples, Mardi Gras beads and other freebies and lots of laughter as visitors went from booth to booth. The breadth of Hancock County businesses exhibiting ran the gamut from Babies & Bears Custom Sewing to NASA Stennis Space Center. In between were local industries including GE Plastics, Dupont Delisle and Mississippi Polymer Technologies.
Others included banks, newspapers, realtors, insurance agencies, Bay City Gym, Beads R Us, Juice Plus Distributor, Rainbow Spring Water and Friends of the Animal Shelter. Government entities represented included the Hancock County Library System, Board of Supervisors and Sheriff’s Office.
Williams said there were several new businesses showing for the first time this year. One of those newcomers who got a lot of attention was the Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company. They had a steady stream of visitors to their booth once word got around they were giving out beer samples. Currently located at Stennis Airport, the microbrewery was formed this past summer with one goal: to introduce South Mississippi to the wonders and delights of fresh, locally brewed beer.
“Being at the expo was definitely worthwhile for us, and we will be back next year,” said Leslie Henderson, president and brew master of Lazy Magnolia. “It was great exposure. We got media coverage and we met a lot of people from restaurants, casinos and marketing firms who will help us get the word out about our beer.”
Henderson, a chemical engineer who says she’s the state’s only female brew master, said the expo was a whirlwind and that their beer was well received. “Word spread around the exhibit hall and people came by asking for samples. We were really pleased,” she said.
One brew, Southern Pecan, was a real crowd pleaser that Henderson said turned into a little legend that already has a local following.
Progressive Physical Medicine was also exhibiting for the first time in Hancock County. “It was definitely worth our time from the contacts we made with the public and other businesses,” spokesman Neil Lanning said. “We serve the whole Coast and are wanting to open an office in Hancock County.”
A new concept in healthcare, Progressive employees go into homes to care for patients on physician referrals. The goal is to help people before they’re sick enough to warrant a hospital stay, hopefully keeping them out of the hospital. Progressive currently has offices in Biloxi and Wiggins and sees homebound patients in all coastal counties. Its treatment team of 11 employees includes a physician, kinesotherapist, rehabilitation technicians and physical therapists.
“Sometimes people wait till it’s too late, then have to go to the hospital,” Lanning said. “This concept is all about saving money but with us it’s about the patients.”
Southern Promiseland Farm was another new exhibitor. A seasonal business open in September and October, the farm, located in Kiln 4.5 miles north of Interstate 10, has an honest-to-goodness 10-acre corn maze in the shape of a giant cow. A hidden word, visible from aerial photographs, lurks within the cow. Other attractions include hayrides, a pumpkin patch, hay maze, trike track, farm animals, sunflowers, pumpkin barn, play area and concession stand. Group reservations, school field trips and birthday parties can be booked.
Chamber president and owner of Patients Choice, a medical equipment and supplies company, Jody Compretta said that back in 1997 when the first expo was planned, the committee discussed whether or not the chamber should sponsor a business and industry expo. There was concern that the business community might not support the event, along with worry about taking the financial risk.
“We hoped 30 businesses would participate,” he said, “and held it at the Holiday Inn (now Coast Inn & Suites) in Waveland. Seven years later, we have to take over the Hancock County Civic Center to accommodate the more than 95 businesses that are participating. It is an annual sellout.”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.