Buy Indiana Expo
Growing business through Navy contract
Business View Magazine interviews Zarod Myers, of the Bedford Chamber of Commerce, as part of our focus on regional trade shows.
French Lick, a small resort town located 50 miles northwest of Louisville, KY in the southern part of Indiana, is perhaps best known for being the hometown of basketball legend Larry Bird. But for the last 13 years, it’s also been the scene of the Buy Indiana Expo, 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. Co-organized on a rotational basis by the Bedford, Linton-Stockton, and Jasper Chambers of Commerce, the Expo is held annually at the Exhibition Hall of the historic French Lick Resort & Casino. Its claim to fame is that it connects 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 original thought process behind the Expo was to make sure that Indiana-based companies got first-hand experience and a first-hand chance to work with Crane,” explains Zarod Myers, Membership & Communications Director for the Bedford Chamber of Commerce. “The economic impact of Crane in the region is massive. I believe it’s the third largest Naval Service Warfare Center in the world. Crane spans four counties. One of those is Lawrence County, where Bedford is.”
Buy Indiana Expo was the dream-child of Adele Bowden-Purlee, a former President and CEO of the Bedford Chamber for many years. “She’s still in the community,” confirms Myers. “She started the Expo in partnership with some people at Crane. Together, they agreed that the Hoosier companies should be offered the earliest opportunity to work with Crane—their purchasers, their engineers—to get that contract work. The inaugural event started off with the Crane employees being bussed into a Bedford high school gymnasium. There was a big interest there and the Expo quickly outgrew that space. Now, it’s one of the largest trade shows that we do, and probably one of the most important in the region.”
The Bedford Chamber plays host every three years, in rotation with the other two Chambers of Commerce. Next year, it will be Linton-Stockton’s turn to host Buy Indiana. The year after that, the Jasper Chamber will host. What won’t change will be the Expo’s location—it’s always held in French Lick. “The Exhibition Hall at the French Lick Resort & Casino is just the largest neighboring venue for this type of event,” says Myers. With over 30,000 square feet of multi-functional event space and easy load-in access, the climate-controlled room can hold up to 200 exhibit booths with plenty of overhead room. “It works out very well,” he says.
Sharing hosting duties with the other Chambers allows the Expo to cover most of the Southern Indiana region, and ensures that Crane is always gaining access to the most experienced local teams. “On the Crane side, they look forward to the Expo every year as a chance to look over who’s doing the work there, who has the contracts, and meet new businesses interested in supporting the mission at Crane,” adds Myers.
As far as any competition, Myers insists there’s more room for collaboration instead. “We’re the only ones playing in this arena locally, just because of Crane’s magnitude,” he explains. “I’ve heard of other Chambers doing trade shows and vendor fairs, but not for government contracts.” He feels very fortunate that the Bedford Chamber and its partnering entities are in a position that benefits so deeply from the Warfare Center’s size, scope, and expense. “Crane, being right here in Southern Indiana, is lucky for us,” Myers says. “We’re privileged to have such a large naval base nearby that employs so many people in the County. And then to be an active Chamber and have that kind of connection, it’s just unique in that way. There aren’t many others, I don’t think, that would have the kind of access that we do to the federal government.”
While some conventions encourage members of the public to gather in a place to discuss and engage in a common interest, the Buy Indiana Expo is mainly focused on educating its vendors on how to conduct business with NSWC Crane. “There’s not a whole lot of information out there about the event because it’s so specific,” Myers admits. “When I’ve walked around the Expo before, the conversations I’ve heard between the vendors and the engineers or purchasers from Crane have been so industry-specific. They’re talking to the right people about their product, and they’re showcasing it to individuals that see the relevance of what they have to offer. It’s not for the general public in that it isn’t something the average citizen would find beneficial.”
The cost for vendors to attend is $300. This secures their booth space and gives them access to the breakout sessions—workshops offered by NSWC Crane to help companies better understand how to do business with them. “The breakout sessions are a great opportunity for people to grow in their knowledge of the defense development space,” declares Myers. The Bedford Chamber also allows people to walk through the event that don’t have a booth. The cost of admission is then $150. “You would also get to attend the breakout sessions and network with those individuals from Crane,” Myers explains. “It could help further your business, both on the supply and demand side.”
While the Expo is just a one-day event, it draws in big crowds, and the hosting Chamber always relies heavily on its Board members, Chamber ambassadors, and community volunteers to make the event a success. Meyers says it’s also typical for vendors to arrive early, get a hotel at French Lick, and stay for a few days. “There’s a golf outing and a welcome reception the day before the Expo,” he notes. “Some like to stay Monday night. Some stay Sunday night because the golf outing is Monday morning. That’s an extra cost. Vendor set-up is on Monday from noon to 5PM. Then there’s the Radius Indiana Welcome Reception from 5:30-7PM. The following day, Tuesday, is the Buy Indiana Expo itself from 9AM-3PM.”
The response they’ve had from the over 500 participating businesses they’ve been in contact with over the years has been overwhelmingly positive. “It’s always a great turnout, no matter which Chamber hosts,” shares Myers. The Expo also welcomes several VIPs from the naval base—the Commander and other high-ranking officers—and elected officials from the contributing counties.
“The thing to appreciate about the Expo is the scope of the opportunities that Crane has,” Myers avers. “There are so many ways to get involved with Crane, and they’re not all strictly to support the war fighter. Ever year, we’ve had Holiday World at the Expo. We’ve had hotels attend. We’ve had the force office. We’ve had different companies that you might not immediately think of when you think of supporting the U.S. Navy. But that’s because of the availability of contracts. It’s a broad range, big scope. Any company can do it.”
“We’ve had companies from all over the country take part in this event,” Myers continues. “It was originally aimed at Hoosier companies, of course. But we have companies coast-to-coast that have satellite locations within the state, and there are no requirements as far as taking part in the Expo. Your company can be headquartered anywhere. If you can make it to the Expo and set up your booth, you have the potential to further your business with Crane.”
The Bedford Chamber is thankful to still be hosting this event after 23 years, in rotation with the other Chambers. “We always enjoy coming back to where it started,” says Myers. “We take great pride in putting on the event, and we look forward to hosting many more.”
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AT A GLANCE
WHO: Buy Indiana Expo
WHAT: A regional trade show
WHERE: French Lick, Indiana