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26th EXPO makes its mark

For the 26th year, the Mississippi Business & Technology EXPO rolled into the Mississippi Trademart in Jackson Jan. 14-15. Exhibitors, sponsors and organizers who have been associated with the show over the years deemed the 2009 EXPO a great success. For first-timers, the show was an eye-opening program.

One of those “newbies” is Mississippi Business Journal publisher Ed Darling. Darling said he was excited about his first time “on the floor.”

“We are thrilled with response to this year’s EXPO,” Darling said. “It appears attendance and participation was up considerably. The exchange of product and service ideas was lively and the networking opportunities couldn’t have been better.”

MBJ account executive Ashley Varnes is a seasoned EXPO veteran, and was a key player in organizing this year’s show.

“It would be impossible for me to convey just how difficult it is putting on the EXPO each year,” she said. “There is a mountain of minutiae detail to attend to, 100-plus exhibitors to assist, awards programs and a business after hours event to conduct — the list goes on and on. I don’t mind telling you that it is stressful. However, when the show comes off well as it did again this year, it justifies all of that hard work.” She added with a chuckle, “For me, EXPO is a blast, especially after its over.”

The 2009 EXPO got off to a rousing start as a packed house was on hand for the Best Places to Work Breakfast. With entertainment provided by Raphael Semmes, attendees enjoyed a gourmet breakfast from Mangia Bene while learning about and honoring this year’s nominees and first-, second- and third place winners.

“We’re honored to be back,” said Mangia Bene’s Jeff Good as he was setting up for the breakfast. An EXPO veteran, Good’s team also supplied the eats for all of the awards programs, the exhibitor’s lounge and business after hours. “We love coming to EXPO every year.”

A ribbon-cutting ceremony at 9:30 a.m. officially opened the tradeshow floor. More than 150 exhibitors were on hand to tout their products and services.

Beth Paxton, owner of Staffers Inc. in Jackson, was one of those exhibitors. After a few years’ absence, she was thrilled to see improvements in the event.

“It just looks great,” Paxton said from her booth near the center aisle. “I just can’t believe all of the new things that have been added, and how the show has grown.”

Seminars were provided on the hour both days of the EXPO. Professional trainers from Mississippi State University and Hinds Community College led the sessions.

“It’s always good to be back at EXPO,” said Gay Saxon of Hinds’ Eagle Ridge Conference Center. “It gives us a chance to showcase just a small part of what we offer at Eagle Ridge, and we get to learn, too. EXPO is both fun and informative.”

The Top 40 under 40 Luncheon was again a sellout. The MBJ’s longest-running awards program, attendees enjoyed music from Jesse Robinson, food from Good and profiles of each of this year’s winners.

“The three signature events — Best Places to Work, Top 40 Under 40 and Business Woman of the Year — were huge successes and enabled us to recognize high-quality companies and individuals for their business and community contributions,” Darling said.

At 5 p.m., the activity aisle was cleared for Business After Hours. A Trademart full of people enjoyed music from The Chill and food from Mangia Bene and other fine local restaurants.

Howard Ballou, anchor at WLBT in Jackson, moderated all of the special events at EXPO. Always gracious, Ballou said, “It was my pleasure. I really enjoyed it.”

Day two got underway at 10 a.m., and the Business Woman of the Year Luncheon began at 11:30 a.m. Once again, the crowd was large, and great entertainment and food was enjoyed by attendees who learned about all of the women competing for the honor, and eventual winner Joey Garner of TEC.

The 2009 EXPO closed at 3 p.m.

Darlng said, “Many played key roles in this year’s success, but we’re indebted to Comcast Business Class for serving as an excellent title sponsor and grateful to all our other partners for their commitment to making it one of the best EXPOs ever.

“Already, folks are lining up for the 2010 EXPO. We’re excited to feel that enthusiasm and we look forward to getting started soon.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.


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