By Brandon Martin
For the first time in 27 years, the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce’s annual trade show ━ Fast Track ━ will not be held due to ongoing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re not going to be able to have it this year,” said Sharon Shepherd, deputy director of the chamber. “There’s no way with social distancing and everything that we would be able to keep everybody safe.”
Shepherd said the chamber initially began to discuss the feasibility of hosting Fast Track 2021 during budget work sessions in June.
“Then in October, we still did not have the vaccine, and our numbers here were rising. That is when we decided there was no way that we were going to be able to do it,” she said.
The decision to not have the trade show this year was disheartening for members of the chamber, according to Shepherd.
“Fast Track is a lot of hard work but it’s also so very rewarding because we are able to show off our members and what Martinsville-Henry County does have to offer,” she said. “It was sad to think that we are going to have to skip a year because of COVID. Of course, we understand. We would never have done anything to put our vendors, exhibitors or the community in harm’s way.”
The annual event is always held the first Tuesday and Wednesday of March and it requires a lot of coordination to be successful, Shepherd said.
“We always start off with (selecting) the location, and once we have that we have to get it approved by either the city or the county’s building inspector and fire marshal,” she said. “Once that’s done, we get Holland’s Exhibition to get everything set up for us.”
If the trade show has a different venue for the year, the set up requires new measurements and floor plan ideas, according to Shepherd.
“They do a couple of different diagrams so we can see which one we like the best. Once we settle on the layout, we have to get all our forms printed and everything mailed out to our chamber members,” she added.
The work of contacting past exhibitors to gauge their interest in participating again also gets underway, and the chamber then focuses on other aspects, such as printing tickets and name badges.
“We also have to recruit the restaurants that cater on the first night and apply for our ABC license so we can have beer and wine,” Shepherd said.
The chamber also holds a committee meeting after each trade show to “find out what did or didn’t work for our exhibitors” so it can be addressed in the following year, she said.
“Every year, we are improving on the show because we want this to be as great as we can for the exhibitors,” she said. “We do that (meeting) right after so it’s still fresh on everyone’s mind. Probably around September, we like to have a location in place, and then start on the other things.”
Ideally, she said organizers have 7-8 months to pull it all together.
Although Fast Track is on the back burner until 2022, Shepherd said that in the interim, the chamber continues to showcase new local businesses and industries.
“For the folks that have come to the area and joined the chamber, we are still doing an abbreviated ribbon cutting, where we don’t have a lot of people there,” Shepherd said, adding that the chamber also features the businesses on their social media account. “It’s so we can still show folks that they are here, they are a new business and what they have to offer.”
Additionally, Shepherd said the chamber features select businesses in their magazine “Discover MHC.”
“Our cover story is three different businesses in Martinsville-Henry County that have actually expanded during the pandemic,” she said. “Then, inside is our business brief section. That has some of our other businesses that have grown and expanded. That was the focus of our magazine because we wanted it to be positive because this past year has been so hard on everyone.”
She noted that eight new businesses have expanded in Uptown Martinsville alone during the pandemic.
“As much negativity there has been this last year because of COVID, it’s nice to see these positive things happening and the workforce is expanding,” Shepherd said. “It’s very exciting.”
To find out more about the chamber, visit: https://www.martinsville.com/index.cfm.