Buy Indiana Expo
Back in action
Business View Magazine interviews Shance Sizemore, CEO of the Bedford Chamber of Commerce, host of the 2021 Buy Indiana Expo’
The Buy Indiana Expo is a one-of-a-kind, trade show-style event sponsored by the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane (NSWC Crane) that aligns companies with unique opportunities to expand their business through federal government contracts. It’s always been an extremely popular event connecting local and international exhibitors with Crane personnel who have the necessary resources and knowledge of government contracting to make lucrative deals with Buy Indiana vendors.
The expo was all set to go in the spring of 2020, until COVID-19 swept across the globe causing plans to come to a screeching halt. “Like everybody else who was hosting an in-person public event last year, it got cancelled,” recalls Shance Sizemore, CEO of the Bedford Chamber of Commerce. “We had hoped that we were just going to delay it until the fall and see what it looks like, but after we got to the point of no return we decided it was for the best to cancel. The military base was starting to shut down, things were starting to go into lockdown, so we just cancelled it.”
But the pandemic couldn’t keep the event down for long. Back after more than a year, the Expo and its organizers are ready to connect businesses with the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane) once again. Sizemore explains, “We had planned on doing it the following year in the spring, but with so much uncertainty up until this past month with mask mandates and social distancing and all that, we thought that the safest and best route to host this in person would be to delay until the August timeframe.”
This year’s event, hosted by the Bedford Chamber of Commerce, will take place on August 31 at the French Lick Resort and Casino in French Lick, Indiana. Organizers are continuously at work ensuring they can roll out a successful event that follows local guidelines, keeps people safe, all while connecting businesses to NSWC Crane.
“We’ve had enough time to better understand how the vaccine rollout was going to work, and what in-person events were going to look like,” says Sizemore. “Obviously, things are still changing based on the French Lick Casino Resort and their protocols and the state changes with different CDC requirements, etc. So, as we are working through that, we are updating our plans to make sure that we host a safe and effective event.”
The Buy Indiana Expo was initiated years ago by then-Bedford Chamber of Commerce CEO Adele Bowden-Purlee. It was started as an attempt to connect the businesses in the Bedford area community to the buying power of the naval base.
“I think the first one they bussed people from the base over to the high school and basically had a whole tour session of ‘here’s what’s happening in the community,’” Sizemore says. “From there, it’s grown to have more of a state, and sometimes even a national, focus with the hopes of helping to grow and incentivize the military to utilize the region. They have requirements they have to hit – small business requirements, minority and women-run business requirements. So this is a mechanism that we can use to help the community and it also helps the base meet their requirements for purchasing.”
As the event expanded, it grew to include the Linton-Stocton Chamber of Commerce and the Jasper Chamber of Commerce. The three chambers rotate as hosts of the yearly event and this year is Bedford’s turn. “It kind of spun out after we outgrew our communities,” says Sizemore. “We now co-host every three years and split the responsibilities. And now, because of the size of the event, it’s hosted in French Lick at the casino.”
So far, the news that the event will be back for 2021 has been met with a good response from vendors.
Sizemore acknowledges, “I know some of our vendors are ready to get back out – maybe they are vaccinated or maybe they’re just ready to have those social and in-person experiences. The Buy Indiana Expo is an event that’s predicated on relationship building and making those connections with the buyers, so this is not something you can effectively do via Zoom. They seem to be eager to jump on board and get their game out again.”
The event is open to those who register in advance and typically includes around 200 vendors each year. Those exhibitors run the gamut from a wide parade of industries. “It’s completely across the board,” says Sizemore. “If you think of what a base purchases, they operate like a small city. They buy toilet paper, they purchase brooms, and they have people who mow the lawn. And so it ranges from necessary business-household items to very specific circuit boards and lasers. There are a few vendors who have a very niche product line and who are targeting a very specific segment of the base.”
The majority of vendors are Indiana-based companies, who have a presence in Indiana or ultimately hope to have a presence in the area. Sizemore confirms, “You will also see some very large companies who have relationships all across the United States, and that would be like the SAIC (the Science Applications International Corporation), and they are headquartered in Virginia, but have locations in Bedford, Crown Point, and Crane, Indiana. So we have vendors that have presences here but may be headquartered in other places or have sales teams in other places. You’ll also see small vendors from the region and people coming from all over Indiana, as well.”
This year, vendors will be split into two halls in an effort to accommodate social distancing. They are given a standard booth with electricity, an eight-foot table, and two chairs. Vendors can also opt to rent several booths for bigger displays. For instance, there is one vendor who will be bringing in vehicles. The expo team works with vendors to make sure they can accommodate, within reason, what they are trying to show. A lot of it is dependent on what they are targeting to show the base. Sizemore admits, “There are times where you have to kind of dive deep into the weeds to better understand what our vendors need.”
In addition to vendors, the expo will also include education workshops by NSWC Crane to help vendors better understand how to do business with the federal government, as well as sessions on contracting and future procurement. Sizemore notes, “We don’t have them all quite lined up yet, but they typically have some flavor of ‘here’s what Crane is looking for,’ so the future of purchasing, the outlook of the base. There will typically be one or two on how you work with DOD contracts, understanding the processes, your registration… everything that’s necessary for being capable of getting a contract and how those are broken down. Sometimes the base will do something more specific to a targeted area that they think is going to be really important for the year. The base just added a hyper-sonics mission set to their work, so it wouldn’t surprise me this year if we see something around hyper-sonics in that discussion.”
Sizemore is looking forward to getting the event back up and running and hopes that in the future they can continue to expand the Buy Indiana Expo and make it an even greater experience for all involved.
“We’re always looking at ways we can improve our relationships and our capacity to make new connections for the vendors and for the base,” he says. “I think our hope is that, coming back out, we’ll get our feet back underneath us with this first go round here in August. And then going into next year, we’ll continue to work on building it and making it the best event that we can.”
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AT A GLANCE
Buy Indiana Expo
What: A regional trade show to connect businesses with the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane
Where: French Lick, Indiana