By Joel Hall
In few places can one inquire about a loan, find someone to do his or her taxes, receive information on energy-saving light bulbs, and get a back massage -- all within walking distance.
The Showcase Clayton Business and Community Expo brought together many of the things the county does well, under one roof.
The fourth-annual business exposition took place on Thursday at the Mt. Zion Baptist Church Community Center in Jonesboro. Sixty businesses, including banks, supply companies, military-support agencies, restaurants, retailers, supermarkets, tax offices, schools, and medical offices, displayed their wares to the community, giving consumers and business owners the opportunity to make valuable connections.
Chamber President and CEO Yulonda Beauford said events like the expo are important to the local economy. She said this year's event brought out as many business people as it did consumers.
"We were pleased, because we sold out [of the space for vendors] a month in advance," she said. "It showed that the business community really wanted something like this. Pretty much, all of our local business sectors are represented. We want to really bridge that gap, so that we are shopping locally."
Several first-time exhibitors had a chance to share their talents and products. Angela Wilborn, a culinary student at Atlanta Technical College, was among several offering samples of traditional Caribbean foods, such as jerk chicken, escovitch fish, plantain, coconut tarts, and conch fritters.
"We've met people from several banks, other local restaurants, and the community itself, so it's a little bit of everybody," Wilborn said. "For us, it's an opportunity to showcase the school, the talent of the people in the school, and meet community leaders. Hopefully, it will inspire people to go to technical school within the state of Georgia."
Charles English, a Jonesboro resident and a former field painter at the Georgia Dome, now operates Field Graphic Designs, a private company specializing in turf painting and field graphics. He said the program introduced him to a wide variety of business owners.
"I'm going full-time into this [business] now," English said. "They [friends] said I needed to be here. Since I walked in the door, I've met a lot of vendors who are interested in what I do, and how they can advertise their stuff. I've gotten three good leads ... It's been very helpful."
Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, a military job-support agency, served as the event's title sponsor, bringing with them dozens of Army reservists and guardsmen who directed foot and vehicle traffic, and assisted visitors with questions.
Over the course of the evening, 100 door prizes, supplied by participating businesses, were given to attendees, including electric grills, paper shedders, gift cards, and round-trip airfare on AirTran Airways.
"It's a reminder after the event that these businesses are here and that we should patronize them," Beauford said.
Amy Bivins, chairman of the chamber's Small Business Development Committee, which organized the expo, said she was impressed by this year's business participation.
"This year, there is a good mix of businesses and people," Bivins said. "This is a chance for them to make that relationship and meet that banker or find that good dentist. It's a good way for people to get business leads, but it's a chance for people in the community to know what they have."