PALMETTO -- The year's big business get-together for Manatee and Sarasota counties, the annual Chamber Expo, was the hot ticket for networking, swag-snagging and showing off Thursday night.
About 150 businesses set up booths at the Bradenton Area Convention Center to grab some attention just as tourists and snowbirds have begun their annual return. Business owners and managers used the three-hour expo as a splashy meet-and-greet to reintroduce themselves to business partners and new customers. Hundreds of people drawn by food, music and curiosity kept anyone with a booth busy talking up their lines of business.
Stewart Moon, vice president of his family's electrical, air conditioning and plumbing company, Air & Energy, was at the event in the midst of an unusually busy fall season. The company just opened its new headquarters building in downtown Bradenton and has been scrambling to keep up customer demand during recent, unseasonably warm weather, he said.
With so much keeping him in the office during the work day, Moon said the expo was a chance to get his face out in public.
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"To truly connect and make relationships, noth
ing beats face to face," he said.
Co-sponsored by the chambers of commerce in Manatee and Sarasota counties, the expo is the biggest and most well-attended public event the organizations sponsor each year. Expected to draw more than 800 people, it overfilled convention center parking lots during its first hour.
Krissy Cassidy, Jhonny Mergena and Alexandra Salgado, all employees at BB&T's new bank branch in downtown Bradenton, said their manager encouraged them to attend to meet more of the people living and working in their community.
"This gives us the opportunity to meet and network," Cassidy said.
Charley and Pat Weber, owners of the Ellenton Paint Center, did the expo as well-practiced veterans. They walked booth to booth introducing themselves and their business. It wasn't all work and no play: Food booths, including those occupied by the Riverhouse Reef and Grill and Chick-fil-A, pulled them in for a light dinner.
"This is a good one," said Pat Weber.
The event drew businesses well known and still building brand recognition.
Flowers Baking Co., a commercial bakery that produces Home Pride and Wonder breads, used the event to push its relatively recently acquired line of Tastykake products.
"It shows us in the market," said Chris Peer, vice president of sales.
A few booths away, representatives of new Bradenton area restaurant entry World of Beer were also busy saying "hello."
"Being with all the local businesses is how we want to outreach," said Amy Wilkinson, WOB assistant general manager.
The expo has been a fixture of the business calendar for more than a decade, according to Manatee Chamber officials. Bob Bartz, Manatee Chamber president, said the chambers work together on the event to promote the two-county area as a single business region.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027 or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.