Fast Track 2014 impressed visitors when it opened Tuesday afternoon in a new location at Commonwealth Centre.
The Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce organizes the annual trade show. The first day, designed to be a networking opportunity for local business people, always is open only to invited guests.
The expo will be open to the public from 4-8 p.m. today. Admission will be $2 or two cans of food, which Grace Network will distribute to the needy.
The Clocktower Building at Commonwealth Centre has hosted the show in the past few years. Because that building now is occupied, the show moved into the building behind the Clocktower Building this year.
“It looks more full, like there are more vendors here this year,” said Candace Zola, a Registered Nurse at Golden Living Center who was among an estimated 3,500 to 4,000 people at VIP Business Night.
“There’s more room to move” around in, said Carolyn McCraw, a retired teacher who now is on the Martinsville School Board.
That is due to the wider widths of the aisles of exhibitor booths, said Martinsville resident Carolyn Beale.
Also, “It’s not as hot” inside the new building as some past trade show locations have been, Beale said.
Roughly 130 area businesses and organizations, including more than two dozen first-timers, are showcasing their products and services at the expo.
The exhibits “really look professional,” said Lee Lester of Martinsville.
Area resident Scott Norman described the trade show as being an event that presents “small-town life at its finest.”
He said he has heard complaints that there is not much in the community, but the trade show proves there is “a lot of stuff around here.”
The best part of Fast Track, he indicated, is personally knowing many of the exhibitors.
“It’s nice to know people and have relationships with them,” Norman said, noting that customers of businesses in larger cities often do not know the employees of those firms as well.
Mary Jordan, the retired executive director of the Spencer-Penn Centre, and H.G. Vaughn of Ridgeway, chairman of the Henry County Board of Supervisors, both said that visiting the trade show keeps them in touch with friends they do not get to see often.
From a business perspective, Fast Track is “a good way for business people to get together to commiserate” with each other about their jobs, Henry County Planning Director Lee Clark joked.
Seriously, Clark said the event helps people learn about businesses and organizations which they might not have known exist.
“It’s awesome for Martinsville-Henry County to be able to showcase all of the businesses we have here,” said Tilisa Riddle, marketing director for Blue Ridge Village.
SHINE Systems & Technologies, which provides analytical and consulting services, is among first-time exhibitors at Fast Track 2014.
“We certainly want to grow (the business), and this is an opportunity to meet” potential new customers, said Greg Conner, an analyst with the firm.
There is plenty for people to see at the trade show.
For instance, animal lovers can meet some new furry friends at the SPCA booth, where dogs available for adoption are being shown. Visitors at the booth can make a donation and get a kiss from a puppy.
“I’m the one getting all the kisses,” SPCA representative Melissa White said while holding a little black dog at the booth.
Girls in a local 4-H program are showing an alpaca, a llama and a large white dog known as a Great Pyrenees.
Thirteen-year-old Lauren Clark, who is Lee Clark’s daughter, said the 4-Hers are helping Infinity Acres take care of the animals to learn responsibility.
The girls mentioned that the alpaca and the llama like to be rubbed on their necks.
Want to remember the good ole’ days? Then stop by Blue Ridge Village’s booth, which has a malt shop theme reminiscent of the television sitcom “Happy Days,” which was set in the 1950s.
Employees of the long-term care provider are dressing in clothes from that era, such as poodle skirts.
Tabitha Underwood, an employee of another first-time exhibitor, maurices, a women’s clothing store at Liberty Fair Mall, visited the trade show on Tuesday for the first time to work at the store’s booth. However, she took some time to walk around, see the exhibits and talk to people.
“I love it. It’s so much fun,” she said. “I can’t wait to do it again next year.”