SATSUMA – Handing out samples, spreading the word and just meeting other business people was the agenda Tuesday at the Livingston Parish Chamber of Commerce’s Eighth Annual Business & Community Expo.
“With 500 members, there is a wide variety of businesses here,” said Chad Bacas, former chairman of the board of the Chamber, at the Suma Hall and Community Center. Bacas served coffee, tea, and soft drinks to visitors, offering him a chance to survey the vendor booths.
Three major medical providers – North Oaks, Our Lady of the Lake and Ochsner – were represented, he said.
Financial institutions, media outlets, law enforcement and restaurants also dotted the center.
“Come shop local,” was the motto of Jason Blackledge, of Café Américain at Juban Crossing.
Blackledge and Devereaux Stevison served up jumbo lump crab with asparagus brie soup and bread pudding with white chocolate pecan sauce, competing in the restaurant contest. The growth in business in Livingston Parish – in addition to good schools – means residents don’t have to leave to dine or shop, the Frost resident said.
After Mother’s Day, Café Américain will unveil some changes, including a “create own pasta” concept, Blackledge said. Instead of a daily lunch special, all of the lunch items will be available every day of the week.
But samples were not the only goal of businesses at the Expo.
For Shawn Brady, business development manager with Office Depot, the Expo provides a chance to show what services are available.
“When a customer walks in the door sometimes they have a mindset,” about what Office Depot offers, Brady said. “We work to educate them to the different things we do.”
Among those things is PC support – “A lot of people don’t know we do that,” Brady said.
“Our Print and Copy Center is huge for us,” Brady added, but today it reflects how technology drives the market. “You can email something, or bring in a jump drive,” instead of carrying in a paper document, he said.
Brady gestured to a health services vendor across the aisle. The company needed a poster-size print quickly. He told them to email it to him and in 45 minutes, the business had a color, mounted poster board – that it took to an expo, he said.
“Local” is always on Brady’s mind.
“I live here. I work here. I want my tax dollars to stay here,” he said. Brady said he directs business accounts to the local store, “so the taxes stay here.”
Educating Expo visitors also was a priority for Amanda Larkins, who works for Attorney General Jeff Landry in the state Department of Justice. This was her first business-oriented expo, Larkins said, who has had experience with expos for seniors and consumers.
Scams – especially phone fraud – target businesses as well as seniors, she said.
Larkins expressed no surprise about scammers “spoofing,” or taking over, a phone number of the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office.
“We tell (people) not to trust any number they see on Caller ID,” she said.
The Expo was not limited only to private businesses.
The City of Walker offered information about job openings and its new three-story city hall. Plans are to rent out the third floor and use the revenue to pay for the building.
Finance Director Mike Cotton took on the role of leasing agent, greeting business officials by pointing to the artist’s rendering and saying, “Your post is right there.”
Meanwhile, Steve Bernard, of ClientTech, had someone with him that all visitors found attractive.
Chip the Narwhale.
Bernard split his time between “telling people what we do, talking to other businesses,” he said, and explaining Chip and the tusk that made him look like a fishy unicorn.
ClientTech offers a variety of technology services: Web design, serving as a business’s IT department, offering consulting and strategic planning, remote and mobile access and networking.
“This Expo gives you a chance to meet other businesses you don’t when you are working,” Bernard said.