CARBONDALE — State Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, didn’t want to see all the hard work he and his team have put into building the Southern Illinois Made Expo dashed by COVID-19, so they had to get creative.
For the last three years, Fowler and others have put together an event to highlight the products, services and destinations that all call Southern Illinois home — money from the event goes to support the Honor Flight program for veterans.
But, as the planning started to heat up for 2020, the third year for the SI Made Expo, Fowler said COVID looked to be a significant challenge.
“What do you think of going virtual with it because we’ve got to keep this momentum going,” Fowler remembered asking organizers.
"Since the COVID-19 pandemic is preventing us from holding the Southern Illinois Made Expo in person this year, we are transitioning our traditional showcase to the 'Shop, Eat, Play — Safely — Southern Illinois Made' public relations initiative," the event's website reads.
Fowler said having the event with more than 100 vendors, which sees more than 3,000 people, wasn’t practical during the pandemic. So, he bought some equipment and made use of a mass communication intern to produce videos for regular vendors. The videos highlight the goods and services vendors offer and show the personality of each.
“There are diamonds and jewels hidden all over Southern Illinois,” Mike Beard of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce said this week during a video news conference to announce the change to this year’s festivities, which were originally scheduled for late July.
Jared Gravatt, of Crown Brew Coffee in Marion, said when he was originally approached to participate in the expo in years past, he wasn’t sure what to think, but after selling out of his product there, he was a fan.
“(It) really showcased the beauty of our region in the way we think it deserves,” he said during the news conference.
So, when Fowler approached him about doing a video to promote the business in lieu of an in-person event, he was in.
So was Judy Hoepker of Rolling Oak Alpaca Ranch in Makanda.
“We love Sen. Fowler,” she said, later adding that she appreciates the work Fowler has done to make sure the expo and its vendors have some kind of presence this year, even if it’s just online videos.
“It meant a lot, it really did, that he wanted to come here,” Hoepker said.
Southern Illinois Healthcare yet again on Wednesday was treating a record number of COVID-19 patients between its Carbondale and Herrin hospitals.
Fowler said it’s not been an easy task — he said he and his team have visited as many as five vendors in a day.
“The feedback’s been great,” he said of his team’s work.
While Fowler and the others said supporting these local and regional businesses is important, this year, it’s especially vital. Many retailers count on strong holiday sales to carry part of their year financially, and with the pandemic, their financial outlook could be dire. Beard said to think of local business owners like family.
“Wouldn’t you want to support your family?” he asked.
Fowler said there are 24 of these promotional videos produced and in the bag. He said two will be released each week and he plans for the project to be an ongoing thing.
For more information, visit simade.com.
On Twitter: @ismithreports
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