By Joel Hall
Business people, and families, packed the parking lot of Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Thursday afternoon for the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce's third annual Showcase Clayton Community Expo.
Hundreds of curious visitors crowded into the church's Community Center, making business connections and learning about the foods, products and services the county has to offer.
Nearly 50 companies offered free samples, educational material, and product demonstrations. Yulonda Beauford, chamber president and CEO, said aggressive marketing and camaraderie exhibited by the business community helped bring this year's expo to a wider audience.
"We marketed to Clayton County schools, and reached out to local churches, and I believe that brought out many new people that we haven't had in the past," said Beauford. "Some of the businesses even put [advertising for the event] on their marquee, so the support from our businesses was overwhelming.
"In light of what's going on in the economy, businesses want to let people know that they are here," Beauford added. "The timing of the expo couldn't have been better."
Ryan Vermeulen, senior solutions advisor with Tri-Copy Office Equipment in Fayetteville, said this was his second year as a Showcase Clayton exhibitor. He said the exposure was well worth the money exhibitors have to pay.
"We've only been here an hour and a half and I've already got seven solid sales leads," said Vermeulen. "It would take about two weeks of cold calling to get the kind of results we'll get inside of four hours.
"Generally, a lot of businesses are more open at an expo," Vermeulen continued. "At least here, it's kind of a given that they may be approached by a fellow exhibitor. They want to give you their speech, too."
Daveitta Jenkins, a lead engineer with CH2M Hill, said the expo provided an opportunity to introduce middle and high school students to fields of engineering.
"There is a growing shortage of engineers graduating from college," said Jenkins. "A lot of times, kids will find themselves at a stage where they are getting ready to go to college, but they have no idea what they want to do.
"Some of the materials give kids real-life examples of how engineering impacts their lives," Jenkins continued. "It really starts to help them formulate all of the options that are available to them outside of the traditional careers."
Ken Warner, an agency development manager at Colonial Life and a first time exhibitor, said the expo gave consumers and businesses a chance to "know their neighbors.
"In a time like this, its important to know the other businesses, because it's not just one business that helps the community succeed," said Warner. "You want to see the right people stay in business."