The Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce held its 32nd annual Business Expo at Pine Bluff Convention Center on Thursday, hosting over 80 vendors, giving them the opportunity to connect with the city’s residents and other business owners. This year’s theme for the event was Stars and Stripes Opportunities.

The business expo is an all-day event that usually kicks off at 7:30 a.m. with a breakfast hosted by the Chamber of Commerce where the member of the year is announced. This year’s member of the year, also known as the Red Coat of the Year was Donna Dial. Businesses were also awarded for their booths. The awards ranged from most informative, judges award, and most creative. The chamber also recognized outstanding business professionals.

The real magic happened on the expo floor. Those attending had the opportunity to play games that were set up by vendors, pick up goody bags of candy, note pads, and pens. They could also enter their names into drawings for door prizes. Most importantly, they had the opportunity to connect with local business owners and learn more about their services. Mandy Owens, event coordinator at Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce said that’s what the expo is all about.

“The goal of the business expo is to bring the business community and the community together,” Owens said. “It’s for the networking, for the contacts -really getting your name out there, especially for the newer companies. It’s a way to get exposure. We have over 1,500 people who walk through here each year and at least 100 vendors. It’s the perfect networking event.”

Owens said the chamber currently has 500 members and 715 company representatives and she expects to see more members added after businesses see the value in being a part of the chamber of commerce at the business expo.

“The Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce is a membership organization, so we only work for our members,” Owens said. “Although our goal is to promote the community, we really work for our members and help them to grow their company. The expo is open to everyone. You don’t have to be a member to be a part of it -you don’t have to be a member to attend any of our events. The goal is to give our members the most visibility.”

Becky Bilgischer and Verna Puckett, realtors with Century 21 United in White Hall said they like participating in the expo because it gives them an opportunity to connect with old clients, and its an opportunity to meet new ones.

“I think the expos are great,” Puckett said. “For the realtors that work the booth it’s a way to renew old acquaintances, we’ve already had one who bought a house from Becky earlier -his son bought one and this is a way for her to reconnect with him. He told her, ‘yes I bought a house from you, but I may need to see you about selling it.’”

All the booths were decorated in trinkets and favors that bear the companies branding and coincides with the theme of the event. Century 21 United had a drawing for a handmade quilt. Bilgischer used the patron’s interest in the quilt drawing to make a new connection.

“One lady came up to register for the quilt and I told her you need that quilt to go in your new home that I’m going to sell you and she said, ‘you might be right’ so I gave her my card,” Bilgischer said.

Robin Woods of Pine Bluff said she attends the expo every year

“I love the business expo -its so much fun,” Woods said. “You can walk around and meet different vendors and you get to see people you haven’t seen in years.”

The following vendors were awarded for their booths: The Property Shop, judges award; Jefferson County Association of Realtor, most creative; Liberty Utilities, most informative. The following business professionals were awarded: Thom Brown, business person of the year; Kedrick Jones, young professional of the year. Southeast Arkansas Behavioral Healthcare was awarded for non-profit of the year.