Back to the Expo: Returning pays off for veteran exhibitors

The renewal that spring brings is not just about the weather and the return of green lawns and flower-covered hillsides.

This year spring offers an opportunity for businesses to renew old acquaintances and make new contacts. That’s why returning to the Mississippi Business & Technology EXPO is important to organizations such as the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Tuscaloosa Tourism & Sports Commission and such businesses as Community Coffee and TempStaff.

“We’ve participated for years and years,” said Rhonda Fisher, supervisory lending relations specialist with the Small Business Administration in Jackson.

The EXPO is a venue, she said, for distributing the SBA’s “Resource Guide” to business people. In addition to detailing SBA business assistance programs and projects, the Resource Guide lists resources available from other entities, both public and private.

Further, the exhibit booth gives the SBA an opportunity to distribute fliers on specific loans programs and provide information on participating banks, Fisher said.

The EXPO provides an opportunity for the SBA to make valuable personal contacts as well. “We meet face-to-face with lots of entrepreneurs and small business owners,” she said. “Also, a lot of bankers are there. We are able to network with them as well.”

And often, the networking includes an opportunity to detail SBA loan procedures and policies to bankers who have yet to participate in an SBA loan, Fisher said.

For the Tuscaloosa Tourism & Sports Commission, the EXPO is opportunity to acquaint Mississippians with the many visitor offerings of the Alabama city. Opening this month in downtown is the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater. The 7,470-capacity Amphitheater sits at the end of the city’s Riverwalk and has scheduled performers such as Kenny Chesney, Sugarland, Patti LaBelle and the O’Jays and Steely Dan.

“It’s just now opening. We’re having our first concert this weekend,” said Beakie Powell, director of meetings and convention development for the Tourism & Sports Commission, formerly the Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Tuscaloosa draws from a 250-mile radius and acquainting people in Mississippi with its museums, parks and other offerings may just get them to exit off Interstate 20 for a visit, Powell said.

The EXPO is an opportunity to highlight our “museums and our attractions,” she added, and listed among them the Riverwalk along the Black Warrior River, the Moundville Archaeological Park, the Transportation Museum, the Paul W. Bryant Museum, the Murphy African-American Museum, the Alabama Museum of Natural History and the Westervelt Warner Museum, which houses the nation’s largest collection of American art.

Fall is synonymous with football in Tuscaloosa and visitors flock there from across the South and elsewhere to watch the perennial powerhouse Crimson Tide of the University of Alabama.

“Our responsibility is to fill up to hotel rooms when football isn’t in town,” Powell said. “That’s why we go to the trade shows” like the Mississippi Business & Technology EXPO.

You only turn 30 once. So Jackson-based TempStaff has chosen to continue its 30th-anniversary celebration by returning to the EXPO, said the personnel agency’s Penny Danford.

Owner Carolyn Boteler has grown TempStaff to a staff of 20 with a database of 4,200 clients.

TempStaff employs 600 to 700 workers on any given day, Danford said. The main office is in Jackson on North Street and satellite offices are in Brookhaven and McComb. “We’re soon opening an office in Canton,” Danford said.

“That’ a great indication” that hiring in the region is picking up, she added.

The EXPO is a key part of TempStaff ‘s strategic planning each year, according to Danford. “Every year I look forward to the EXPO. It is a way for me to work with other companies and to start networking and to get as knowledgeable as I can be” about the staffing needs of business in the region.

“It’s a great investment for TempStaff. Our returns are definitely there or we would not do it each year.”

As part of its 30th anniversary, TempStaff will be displaying its newly designed logo and a redesigned exhibition booth. “I cannot wait,” Danford said.

Brad Lacombe can say with confidence his booth will see a lot of traffic. That tends of happen when you are the destination for fans of Community Coffee, a south Louisiana institution that made Jackson one of its first market ventures outside the Bayou State more than a decade ago.

Community coffee, made of 100 percent arabica beans, will be brewed in three or four different varieties at the EXPO, Lacombe said.

Look for a breakfast blend, a dark roast, a New Orleans blend with chicory and decaf. “We’ll be shooting for office accounts,” he said. “When we’re doing the Expo, that’s what we’re looking at.”

Community Coffee has been involved with the EXPO since organizers invited it to provide the coffee at the kickoff breakfast a few years ago, Lacombe said.

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