April 7 came 10 days before the IRS tax filing deadline. CPA firms need all hands on deck as that annual deadline approaches. So why was Becky White of the Eubank, Bette, Hirn, Wood CPA firm spending the day at the Mississippi Business & Technology EXPO?
Mostly to make sure Eubank, Bette, Hirn, Wood is even busier on the next tax day, said White, who noted the firm pencils in the EXPO every year as a key business builder. “We’re building relationships,” she said. “I don’t know what the other (CPA) firms are doing.”
Eubank, Bette, Hirn, Wood set up shop at the EXPO along with nearly 100 other businesses from throughout the state. They joined in returning to a time before greetings from a digital image replaced the handshake and the pleasure of making a new friend.
Throughout the daylong event, new acquaintances were created and old ones renewed as a stream of visitors poured into the Mississippi Trade Mart to stop by exhibits set up by businesses, colleges, non-profit organizations and government agencies.
The Monday after the EXPO, Lashanda Alexander of Century 21 Masell & Associates was sorting through the leads she collected there. “With this market, I can say it helped,” said Alexander, who works out of the agency’s Madison office. “I’m still going through leads from people who either wanted to purchase or sell a house.”
Leslie H. Poole came to the EXPO with a new product to sell – The Mississippi Children’s Museum, 2145 Highland Drive in Jackson. The $26-million museum has drawn 50,000 visitors since opening in December.
“We are so proud of it,” said Poole, noting the museum is booked up for field trips through the end of May and is preparing for a busy summer camp season.
Getting the museum built has been a “labor of love” and a signature project of the Junior League, Poole said.
Hinds Community College was among a host of colleges and universities exhibiting at the EXPO. All came hoping to draw the interest of adults who might want to enhance their professional skills or acquire a new set of skills in preparing for a career switch. Hinds Community College, which has six locations in the metro area, has grown to over 13,000 students this semester, up from 10,000 at mid-decade. “It’s a direct result of the economy,” said Shane Brown, an adult-education recruiter who staffed the college’s EXPO booth.
Medical and business course offerings are especially popular and reflect the demands of the job market, Brown said.
The college is also training a lot of new mechanics, especially specialists in diesel maintenance and repair. They are in high demand as companies decide to keep their current truck and automobile fleets on the road rather than replace them, Brown said. “Many are not buying new equipment; they’re repairing what they have.”
Mississippi College’s Bebe Garrison said the EXPO gave the college an opportunity to help spread the word about its new learning center in Flowood at Dogwood Festival. “Our new center is mainly for adults coming back at night to get their undergraduate degrees,” said Garrison of the Admissions Department.
Advantage Staffing’s booth had a Hollywood theme, complete with glitzy lighting and movie posters presenting “Star Attractions.”
The Star Attractions, of course, are the workers Advantage Staffing provides businesses in metro Jackson, said Anna Oberhousen. “We produce ‘Stars,’” she added.
Oberhousen said many companies are stepping up their hiring, especially in converting temporary workers to permanent. And, she added, “a lot of companies not ready to make that move are utilizing us more until they are ready.”
Advantage Staffing is a global company headquartered in Japan, where an earthquake and tsunami killed thousands of people last month. Advantage Staffing personnel there are all accounted for, Oberhousen said. “Everybody’s OK.”
Disaster planning is a key business for Venyu, a Baton Rouge, La.-based security solutions company that provides data protection and recovery services in Jackson. Too often, said territory manager Andy Piner, businesses think of data security as a luxury. But when data is lost or unavailable for a time, revenue is lost as well, said Piner, who staffed the Venyu booth.
Venyu can rebuild your company’s damaged servers provided your data is stored at one of its data centers. “You can’t just call me after a Katrina event and ask me to help you. In some cases we can (help you) but it’s a lot harder.”
Like Venyu, NetLink is in the security business. But its protection is for a company’s premises and personnel.
NetLink, which has been in Madison since 1998, provides electronic access control, video surveillance, burglar system and remote access. On the communications side, a structured cabling, audio and video systems, intercom systems and fiber optic fusion splicing.
“We’re doing pretty well” despite a lackluster economy, said NetLink’s Tom Massey. “If you’re buying security you’re typically going to be in business for a while.”
On the residential side, NetLink provides home entertainment systems. These systems, said NetLink’s Michael Kilpatrick, can come as sophisticated or as basic as you like. “The sky is the limit with home entertainment. It’s all up to you.”
Lisa Chisum had no shortage of visitors stop by her booth. And no wonder – the Wells Fargo mortgage loan officer was giving out money.
At least at one time the money had been legal tender. In its new incarnation it had been recycled into green coverings for ballpoint pins.
The home financing business has made a strong return – at least for her bank, she said. “Being here today is like a vacation to me,” added Chisum, who works out of Wells Fargo’s Flowood location.
Mostly she is seeing new business. “The refinancing is kind of over. We’re still doing some of it” but “rates are not in the 3s and 4s (in terms of percentage) like people wanted.”
At the Comcast table, business account executive Tammy Taylor was telling business visitors to get ready for breakneck Internet speeds. Comcast business class, she said, will offer broadband Internet at 50 mpbs, up from the current maximum of 16 mpbs, by the end of the year.
“We’ve always been the fastest. And now we’re getting faster,” she said.