SATSUMA — Once again the Livingston Parish Expo and Job Fair drew shoulder-to-shoulder crowds that filled the Suma Center to capacity for the eighth edition of the event that showcases many of the parish’s businesses while also serving as a forum for job seekers.
April Wehrs, president and chief executive officer of the Livingston Parish Chamber of Commerce, surveying the crowd streaming into the center, remarked that the expo had once again drawn a capacity number of vendors and what appeared to be another record-breaking crowd.
“This is Small Business Week and it is most appropriate that the Expo appears to once again be a very popular event. A large number of our vendors are small businesses, and this gives them some positive exposure. The chamber staff and volunteers work very hard to put this event together, and we are always gratified with the results,” she said.
Wehrs said that 100 booths were in operation in the spacious hall, and the booths included a wide variety of business, governmental and nonprofit entities with many of them interviewing potential employees. Personnel manning the booths were generally kept busy answering questions, handing out printed information about their product or services, and in some cases, offering small souvenir items.
Wehrs said planners of the event had sought to create a “party atmosphere” at the expo, and that music being played by a disc jockey added to the festivities. “The expo is one of the chamber’s signature events every year, and our great committee works hard to make this a big success. Over the years we have learned from the feedback that visitors who come to the expo looking for employment opportunities have found them here. There is such a wide variety of businesses and agencies represented at the expo that there is something for just about everyone.
“For example, in addition to the many business firms represented, we have representatives from Tickfaw State Park, the Louisiana Treasury Department, the state Attorney General’s Office, the Livingston Parish School system represented by its new superintendent Joe Murphy. We’ve just had a great response,” she said.
This year’s Expo featured a Restaurant Challenge, and representatives of a dozen Livingston Parish eateries manned booths where they passed out a variety of culinary treats. Wehrs said representatives from the Louisiana Culinary Institute volunteered to judge. Big Mike’s Sports Bar Grill from Denham Springs was the judges’ choice as the winner for its bread pudding. However, patrons at the Expo could vote on their favorite treat for the People’s Choice Award, which was won by BRQ Seafood Barbeque. Walk-On’s Bistreaux Bar won the Online Favorite Award by earning 550 votes in a Facebook poll.
Rebecca Moore, part of a team at the Stewart Family Medicine After Hours Primary Urgent Care Services, called the expo “an amazing opportunity for our employees to meet a lot of people. We are ‘putting ourselves out there’ and making some good contacts. It’s fun to meet and interact with so many people.”
Walker Mayor Jimmy Watson, along with the city’s Chief of Staff Jamie Etheridge and Financial Director Mike Cotton, entertained a steady stream of visitors who had their first look at the architect’s drawing of the new City Hall. Construction of the three-story building will begin later this year, and Watson said that his team was eager to show the public what the new facility will look like. “I think the expo is great. This event brings everyone in the parish together to share ideas and promote the good things that are happening in our communities. We see it as a chance to promote what is going on in our city. Last year, we featured Walker’s Challenger Field, which had just been completed, and this year we want everyone to see what our beautiful new city hall will look like,” Watson said.
Employees of the Livingston Parish School System’s Child Nutrition Department drew considerable attention with a stationary bicycle that was modified so that healthy smoothies could be created by pedaling the bicycle. The faster the rider turned the pedals, the faster the blender activated by the spinning tire would turn. Leah Smith, child nutrition supervisor, said the cycle offered exercise and a healthy drink at the same time. Patrons were treated to samples of the smoothie created by bicycle riders.
Smith said that the school’s system’s 43 cafeterias prepare about 35,000 meals every day. “The expo gives us an opportunity to tell our important story and to show how we are trying to provide healthy, sustaining meals to our school children,” she said.
A popular stop was an elaborate layout prepared by staff from Rotolo’s Pizzaria. The team offered a variety of food items, including some created for the expo. James Houtman said the event was an appropriate venue for meeting the public and sharing some of the treats that his restaurant has to offer. Several patrons commented the chicken wings and a new cheesy dip served with French bread were both favorites.
An example of the variety of information booths available was one bringing attention to the Relive World War II Weekend which will be April 3-4. Charlotte Reynolds, attired in an authentic World War II Women’s Army Corps uniform, explained to visitors that the Patriotic Tribute Show will be highlighted with Axis and Allied encampments in Historic Downtown Denham Springs. On display will be weapons and WWII vehicles. The weekend will also feature an outdoor movie and children’s activities. Reynolds and her husband Robert spearheaded a popular World War II enactment in 2018.
Kathleen Abels, executive director of Hammond-based TARC said she was experiencing the most successful effort she has had in attending several previous expos.
“Since the doors opened, I have received 25 resumes from potential employees. This is wonderful, as I can use about 10 or 12 new employees. I usually get about five applications here but this year it has been exceptional. This expo is great. … Not only do we have the opportunity to meet potential employees, but its gives us the chance to tell the public the services we offer to those with disabilities,” she said.
Karen Terrell, representing Church Funeral Services Crematory, who was visiting with Abels, said, “I have had the chance to meet with lots of people, and that gives us a chance to explain the services we offer. At the same time, I have really enjoyed some good food. This expo is something special, and I am really enjoying it.”