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'BIG' trade show draws large crowd

DULUTH - The Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce held its third annual BIG Expo on Thursday and packed The Convention Center at Gwinnett Center with more than 250 exhibitors and an estimated 5,000 visitors.

It is the largest chamber-sponsored business-to-business trade show of its kind in Georgia. Access Payment Solutions and the Gwinnett Daily Post are also sponsors of the event.

Some of the exhibitors were at the expo for the first time and some had been there every time, but everyone seemed to expect the same thing as Robby Monk - a lot of handshaking.

"We came for awareness more than anything," said Monk, a senior client strategist for Red Clay Interactive, an Internet marketing company that recently became a member of the chamber. "It's a great opportunity to get our name out there and an opportunity to meet other businesses in the area."

Chris Theus, co-owner of American Painting and Renovations Inc., said he still feels the need for his business, which has been in Gwinnett for 16 years, to run a booth every year.

"It's still important to get our name out," Theus said. "There's no better way to do it."

So while the overarching theme of the day seemed to be networking, there were also other events to enjoy.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss kicked off the expo by speaking to roughly 400 guests at a luncheon prior to the event's start at 1 p.m.

There were also free seminars throughout the day and a fashion show sponsored by PGA Superstore that had models sporting golf attire.

The job fair proved to be another well-attended portion of the expo, with more than 60 businesses talking to potential employees.

Sal Uryasev, a recent graduate of the University of Florida, said he was staying with someone locally and found out about the job fair. He said the job search has been a little tough so far and Thursday wasn't much better, with most of the companies hiring for sales positions, which didn't interest him.

"I wouldn't say (the search) has been stressful, but having a college degree, I thought you were supposed to have a job right away," said Uryasev, 23. "But everybody has a degree now. The market's kind of saturated with them."

Another very popular spot at the expo, maybe the most popular, was restaurant row - a section where local eateries were dishing out food to everyone interested.

Simone Davis, a special events sales manager with Jillian's, said only 11⁄2 hours into the expo she had served roughly 300 people portions of their "Black Jack BBQ Chicken" and garlic mashed potatoes.

Despite paying for a booth and all that food, Davis said the contacts she made were invaluable.

"I just think the benefit totally outweighs the cost," Davis said.