PARIS — As a way to draw in members from the entire Oxford Hills community – kids and all – the Oxford Hills Chamber of Commerce has revamped its annual Business Showcase to give it a festival-like atmosphere and make it a more family friendly event.
Now dubbed the Business and Community Expo, it will kick off at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 22, in the gym of Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School on Main Street in Paris.
Business-to-business networking will take place from 8:30 to 10 a.m. and the free event will open its doors to the public at 10 a.m. The remainder of the expo will run until 2 p.m. and the annual Chili and Chowder Contest is from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
“We’ve decided we wanted to do some … anchor events to attract people in. … All the presentations and activities are going to be going on inside the gymnasium, which we like because it becomes inclusive … so you can come and enjoy and stay as long as you want,” said chamber Executive Director John Williams. “It’s evolved into more of a community event. We want people to realize this isn’t just a business showcase, it’s a business and community showcase.”
Jennifer Boenig, assistant to the executive director, discovered the former name of the event – the Business Showcase – turned out to be misleading to some community members.
“I was surprised with that feedback with the ‘Business Showcase’ name because in my mind, we’re showcasing businesses. … Of course it’s an open event. To a lot of people, when it’s just ‘Business Showcase,’ [they think,] ‘It’s just for business people. I can’t go,’” she said. “We decided that … if there is that really kind of confusion, we want to make it very clear this is for this community.”
New this year are a number of events that will take place during the expo. The Celebration Barn in Paris will put on a short performance. Officials from Greenwood’s Mt. Abram will give a mini-PowerPoint presentation on their solar energy efforts at the mountain.
The presentation will focus on “what solar energy means to the economy, what it means to businesses throughout the state of Maine and the really throughout the country. It’s really so much more important,” Williams said. “They have really gone above and beyond when it comes to the development of solar energy [for] running that facility over there. Virtually the entire facility is powered by solar energy, which quite is remarkable.”
Students from the Aspire Higher Race Car project, along with the car, will be on hand to talk about their middle school Quest project. They’re responsible for all aspects of the car, including building, marketing and business relations.
For the first time in the event’s roughly seven-year history, Lil’ Leapin’ Lizard Family Center of Oxford will have an inflatable for children to enjoy during the expo.
“We love the idea of having Leapin’ Lizard there because that’s become a real neat recreation center for children and families in the area,” Williams said. “This will give parents who want to bring their children an opportunity to let their children have some fun.”
Door prizes will be drawn every hour, with a winter-oriented trip drawn last. Also new this year, businesses will have raffle tickets at each booth for visitors to enter the drawings. Williams said they expect between 60 and 65 businesses to participate in the 2016 edition.
“The more booths you visit, the more chance you have you to win,” Boenig said, noting this is a great way for businesses to get face time with the public. “[We’re] encouraging people to actually come in and look and see all of the things that are here in the Oxford Hills. A lot of times we will hear people come in [and say,] ‘I didn’t know there was a local painter down the road.’ Or ‘I didn’t know anything about the local United Way,’ or whatever it may be.”
The only thing that costs money at the expo is the Chili and Chowder Contest, which is $5 to sample all of the entries. Williams thinks there will be between seven and 10 competitors. Those signed up thus far include The Progress Center, Wal-Mart, Rocket Ron’s, Bridgton Hospital and Fernwood Cove. Since Oxford Federal Credit Union is the sponsor of the contest, its employees get to judge the dishes.
“It’s always good to have food,” Boenig commented.
Food and fun is what it’s all about, according to Williams.
“We encourage people to come and .. enjoy the atmosphere, enjoy the events, visit the businesses, get to know more about the businesses … enjoy the chowder and the chili from some of our restaurants and organizations,” he said. “I think it’s neat to create an environment that’s appealing to people. It’s almost a festival-like atmosphere that combines business and fun.”
Anyone with questions or wanting to participate in the Business and Community Expo can visit www.oxfordhillsmaine.com/ or call Boenig at 743-2281.