GroBiz 2011 will take the place of the annual Business Expo

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WALLA WALLA -- A new trade show event making its debut this month will put local products and services center stage. Literally.

"We're going to have a demonstration stage in the middle of the vendors," said Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer David Woolson.

Business operators will showcase their wares on the stage and at their own booths during GroBiz 2011, a new event that combines an educational component for businesses and a trade show for the public.

The new premier business event is a joint venture of the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce and Walla Walla Community College.

The two-day event begins March 18 with a daylong business conference at the community college's Performing Arts Center. That evening, the trade show portion will be open to Chamber members and conference attendees at the Dietrich Dome. It will open to the public the next day from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

The trade show component is not new to the Walla Walla landscape. Over the past decade businesses from across the region have gathered at the Dietrich Dome for the Business Expo, a showcase that brought the goods and services of 80 or so businesses to the general public under one roof.

GroBiz replaces that event, which Woolson said was in need of "re-invention."

"We're really trying to do a different event -- not just rename one," he said.

Still an opportunity for merchants and business owners to present their brands to the public, the event will feature a couple of changes this year. First and foremost, it's free for consumers, Woolson said. But it will also have a new look and feel, particularly with the demonstration stage where vendors can show their products.

The trade show portion will follow a daylong conference, where attendees will hear two keynote presentations and also choose from 12 breakout sessions covering everything from tips for startups to long-term survival strategies.

Featured speakers will be consultant and author Brad Worthley and Maury Forman, manager of rural initiatives for the state Department of Commerce.

The conference will wrap with a trade show reception, featuring wine and food pairings and a fashion show for the unveiling of the official memorabilia for the 37th annual Walla Walla Balloon Stampede presented by Gesa Credit Union.

For more information, contact Susan Schaefer at the Chamber at 525-0850 or sschaefer@wwvchamber.com or Nancy Cress at the community college at 527-4561 or nancy.kress@wwcc.edu .

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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