On Thursday, between 300 and 400 small-business owners and employees attended the 2012 Business Opportunities Procurement Conference and Trade Fair to try to get some of that work, showcasing their companies to buyers from the depot. The trade fair has brought business to local companies for more than a decade and organizers expect similar success this year, though the depot recently announced that it is in the process of releasing more than 400 temporary employees.
“As we right size the work force we’re always expected to do more with less,” said Clester Burdell, depot public affairs officer. “You’re pushed even more to meet the mission.”
Roughly 90 companies, most of which were local, were represented at the trade fair, sponsored by the Jacksonville State University Small Business Development Center. The event essentially helps local businesses tap into federal funds, bringing tax dollars home to boost the local economy, said Willie Johnson, who oversees purchasing at the depot.
“It helps them tap into the vendors who are out there,” Johnson said of the buyers at the depot. “It’s like market research, but they don’t have to do the research.”
Johnson said depot employees such as the public works director can attend the trade fair to find companies from which they can buy items that don’t have to be bid out. Organizers also said the event can lead some companies to secure government contracts that boost business for months at a time.
Oxford Lumber owner Bill Newman said his company has been attending the trade fair for years. His is a company that could, for example, supply the public works director with some of the plumbing parts necessary to keep the depot operational.
“It gives us a chance to meet these people and share contact information,” Newman said.
Newman said the trade fair has led to added business for his company over the years. He also said that, as a whole, it’s helped the small business that provides the types of supplies and services used at the depot.
“The more we can try to serve them, it helps things keep going,” Newman said.
Weaver and Sons, Honda and Alabama Laser Systems of Munford were among the companies at the event. It helped them and others make hard-to-secure contacts with depot buyers, said Robbie Medders, associate director of the Small Business Development Center.
“We want to help them sell to the government,” Medders said.
Bill Fielding, the dean of JSU’s business college, said there is a clear correlation between the trade fair and the economic health of some local businesses. Fielding, who conducts economic impact studies, added that any such business boost would be difficult to measure.
“If we can help local businesses get contracts with the federal government it obviously gives a tremendous boost to the local economy,” Fielding said. “It is very important to our economy and to the depot.”
At a time when employers, including the depot, have been making headlines for having layoffs for years, the trade fair can help spur growth, Medders said.
“The economy is about sales for these companies and it’s about jobs,” Medders said. “If they can keep their sales up, they can keep their employees.”
Star staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @ LJohnson_Star.