Fair promotes local businesses

BY JON FRANK | APRIL 28, 2011 7:20 AM

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For Brenda LaMarche, Wednesday was a day to promote her locally-owned business, BRL-HRConsulting LLC to the community.

And it paid off.

The eighth-annual Buy Here Business Fair, hosted by the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce, provided LaMarche and 50 other Johnson County business owners the opportunity to rub elbows and network with one another in an attempt to persuade fellow local venders to rely on local industries for inventory and other services. Those in attendance paid more than $300 to participate.

"I've met a lot of really nice people here,"LaMarche said, noting she'll likely participate next year.

The event is part of the Buy Here Campaign, founded in April 2007.

The Chamber of Commerce started the expo to help grow local businesses by relying on neighboring establishments for resources, as opposed to shopping outside Johnson County.

"I think the local-buy ethic continues to grow," said Nancy Quellhorst, the president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce. "Particularly, we want to support businesses that are recovering from a weak economy."

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She said the event is another way to promote local products and services.

Since its inaugural year, the Buy Here Campaign has redirected more than $6 million in spending toward Johnson County. The campaign's goal is to get all Johnson County businesses to pledge a 5 percent shift toward local businesses.

Although the campaign has no specific monetary goal, Buy Here is primarily concerned with strengthening the local economy by funneling money back into small businesses.

Kelly McCann, the director of communications for the local Chamber of Commerce, said the Buy Here Campaign was founded to help raise awareness of local businesses.

"I think there's been more of a mind shift to buy here," she said. "When there's a downturn in the economy, people think about it more."

Many in attendance said the expo is a good opportunity to meet other businesses who can help them with their needs. Some in attendance also hoped to shake hands with potential customers.

"It's open to the public, so ideally we want the public to come," said Joyce Saur, a marketing representative for ServPro, a fire and water cleanup and restoration company based in Iowa City. "It's a way to get to know businesses as well."

Jessica Wittman, a corporate liaison with Radiologic Medical Services, said she likes the community aspect of the fair.

"It's kind of nice to know that you have neighbors you can count on," she said.

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