Parking was at a premium around the Pine Bluff Convention Center on Thursday morning as Business Expo 2014 brought in a large crowd of visitors who were able to visit a record number of exhibitors that included area businesses, non-profit organizations and numerous political candidates.
The Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce has been sponsoring the Expo annually for many years. The 2014 edition was organized for the first time by event coordinator Nancy McNew, who took up her post in October 2013.
“We have 20 new exhibitors this year, bringing the total to 122,” McNew said Thursday. “We actually had to turn people away because they were still calling us after the registration deadline had passed. Our Expo Breakfast sold out with 575 tickets sold. We had to turn people away from the breakfast as well. So, the enthusiasm for the event has been just great.”
McNew said the Expo has been able to build on its own success as word-of-mouth publicity adds new attendees each year.
“I can’t think of a better way to promote your business locally than this,” McNew said.
John Lawson, manager of business development with Express Employment Professionals, said participation in the Expo is an important part of the company’s business plan.
“It is the nature of our business to be dependent upon our business contacts as well as a strong applicant pool,” Lawson said. “By being a part of the Expo we are able to network with employers who may need employees and recruit job applicants interested in working for us.”
Karen Lee, coordinator for the Jefferson County Drug Court, said a presence at the Expo is an important part of the court’s fundraising efforts.
“We are a mandated program but we are also unfunded, so by being at the Expo we can tell a lot of people about what we do and how important it is,” Lee said. “Drug Court saves lives and saves the taxpayer money. It costs $55 a day to house an inmate in the penitentiary but only $4 a day for them to participate in the Drug Court program. We work with those convicted of drug offenses during their probationary period by taking a holistic approach geared toward making them productive citizens and keeping them from going back to jail. “
The Boys and Girls Club of Jefferson County was represented by chief volunteer officer Mattie Collins and secretary Barbara Rhinehart.
“We are at the Expo to let people know about us and about what we have to offer in our community,” Rhinehart said. “We provide interested people with an information packet and a donation card.”
“The Boys and Girls Club is the best place on earth for any child,” Collins said. “It is a positive place for kids with tutoring and mentoring and it’s a safe place for them. It’s a blessing to be the CVO of the Boys and Girls Club of Jefferson County.”
Rev. David Fleming of First United Methodist Church said a presence at the Expo is part of a fulfillment of Biblical requirements.
“The Bible emphasizes the church going to the people over people going to church,” Fleming said. “We don’t just sit in the church and wait for people to come by. Events like this allow us to be a real presence in the community and show people what we have to offer.”
Many visitors to the Expo have made it a point to return every year.
“I just love it,” said Onita Taylor of Pine Bluff. “I’ve been coming for the past four years. You see a lot of people that you know and the food is good. Simmons has the best hot dogs.”
Paula Finley is also a multi-year veteran of the Expo.
“I get to see people and meet people,” Finley said. “I mark my calendar every year to make sure I know when it’s coming up. It is something enjoyable to do.”
Daphnne Goldsmith said she has been an Expo patron for at least six years.
“I really enjoy all of the great information that is available,” Goldsmith said. “I have found information on taking care of an elderly parent as well as on how to start a small business. I also like being able to enter the raffles for different prizes.”
Stacey Williams is activities coordinator for Davis Life Care and Cynthia Arnold is the activities coordinator assistant.
“We have a booth here but we also brought several of our residents out to enjoy the Expo today,” Williams said.
Carolyn Parks is a Davis Life Care resident.
“You are mighty right,” Parks responded when asked if she was enjoying her time at the Expo. “I got some candy and I was dancing.”
Shirley Thomas of Pine Bluff was also enjoying her time at the Expo.
“It’s just a nice atmosphere,” Thomas said. “You see a lot of people you haven’t seen in a while.”
During the Business Expo Breakfast the 2014 award winners were announced.
Roy Ferrell of Simmons First National Bank was named Business Person of the Year ; Non-Profit of the Year was awarded to Neighbor to Neighbor; and Cardell Meadows was named Chamber Redcoat of the Year.
The Chamber Chairman’s Club Service Award went to Betty Bradshaw of the Area Agency on Aging for Southeast Arkansas and to Buster Crook of William H. Crook Insurance and Financial Services.
Awards for exhibitor booths included Most Informative to Carrington Electric; Most Creative to Jenkins Memorial Center and Jenkins Industries Inc.; and the Judges Award to Fairfield Community Credit Union.