State Sen. Dale Fowler (R-Harrisburg) hosted traveling office hours and welcomed local businesses, area residents and members of the veterans community to the Pavilion in Marion for the first-ever Southern Illinois Made Expo held on July 28 and 29.
“This was a project that I was inspired to pursue after attending the Delta Regional Authority Executive Leadership Institute, an initiative dedicated to fostering economic development and growth in the eight-state Delta region,” said Fowler. “My hope was to create a novel opportunity for local businesses and consumers to come together, connect in one place and highlight the exceptional, diverse business community here in Southern Illinois.”
Sen. Fowler reached out to the Shop Southern Illinois initiative to develop the event. The Southern Illinois Chambers of Commerce initiative is dedicated to encouraging residents to shop locally and support small businesses throughout the region. The partnership between Sen. Fowler and the Chambers led to the development of the Southern Illinois Made Expo, a premiere event bringing together approximately 100 businesses to showcase their unique products, tasty treats and one-of-a-kind offerings.
“I truly believe that guests will be surprised to learn about so many wonderful products that are made right here in Southern Illinois,” said Carbondale Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jennifer Olson. “In addition to purchases made by Expo visitors, there is the opportunity for businesses to network with each other. This networking has the potential to lead to participating vendors finding new markets, new sources and new partnerships.”
Also during the event, Sen. Fowler hosted traveling office hours for area constituents, making staff available to answer questions, hear concerns and provide helpful legislative information to visitors.
“Since taking office, so many employers and employees throughout the region have reached out to me, voicing concerns and discussing the importance of doing more to help our business climate here in Illinois. Those types of discussions are what inspired this event,” said Fowler. “I wanted to use the Expo as another way to encourage constituents to give me their feedback, provide their insight on the issues that matter most to those in the District and be as accessible as possible to those I represent.”
The Expo also partnered with the Veterans Honor Flights of Southern Illinois to hold a ceremony honoring area veterans. Veterans Honor Flights of Southern Illinois is an organization that works to honor and thank veterans by providing them a free-of-charge trip to Washington, D.C. to see the monuments constructed in honor of their service and sacrifice. The program served as the official charity for the Expo.
“The Pavilion is honored to help Senator Fowler bring his vision of the Southern Illinois Made Expo to our community and we are thrilled to know that this event benefits Southern Illinois Honor Flight,” said Executive Director of the Pavilion Jared Garrison. “The public is being given a real treat – the amount of vendor participation for this Expo is astounding. It is by far the largest Expo we’ve experienced at the Pavilion.”
Other offerings at the Expo included immersive virtual reality simulations of Southern Illinois’ Garden of the Gods courtesy of Lobaki, Inc, live entertainment featuring local talent, and a “Kids Corner” where children can create artwork to be given to veterans aboard the next Southern Illinois Honor Flight.
“As State Senator, I have the privilege of serving a great district, filled with so many opportunities and home to so many hardworking employees, innovative businesses, and beautiful locations,” said Fowler. “For me, Southern Illinois has it all and I wanted this Expo to showcase everything that there is to love and support in our region.”