POINCIANA – As the clock struck 11 a.m., Wendy Farrell stood in front of the Poinciana Community Center and stared up at the clouds, which had been ominously dark all morning, but were finally starting to clear.
“I had a look at the weather web sites this morning, and I think all is good,” she said.
If the clouds were sometimes dark, the turnout at the Sixth Annual Poinciana Business Expo, which Farrell helped organize, was solid, as crowds packed into the Community Center and the next door YMCA to check out what the more than 40 vendors had to offer, including information on services that ran the gamut, from health care to insurance to martial arts.
“I think it’s great,” said Ivonne Palacios, the office manager for Jackson Hewitt Tax Services of Kissimmee, which had a booth at the event. “Poinciana really needs this. I love this event. It’s a way for small businesses to promote themselves.”
Jennifer Massey set up a table for ATA Martial Arts, or “Karate for Kids,” an office that opened at 1901 S. Poinciana Boulevard last summer. It offers after-school pickup for students, and then programs that provide the students with study time followed by martial arts lessons. They also offer Salsa Fitness classes for adults.
“This is our first year that we’ve done this,” she said. “There are a lot of different vendors here. There are a lot of health companies here, which is good. That compliments what we do.”
The crowds were strong enough, she said, that ATA would be back next spring if the Business Expo is held again.
“So far, this being our first year, we think it’s an event we’d definitely do again,” Massey said.
Poinciana is expected to experience a solid economic boost this year, as Osceola Regional Medical Center, the hospital in downtown Kissimmee, begins work on the first hospital in this community, Poinciana Medical Center. Construction began on Feb. 18.
The new COO of the medical center, Joanna Conley, was at the Business Expo to greet the public and tell them what the hospital would be offering, including 200 permanent jobs, a separate emergency room facility, and a medical arts building that provides office space to physicians.
“I think this is very exciting to be able to interface with the residents of Poinciana,” Conley said. “They are very excited about the hospital.”
The organizers of the Business Expo — the Poinciana Area Council, a group of local business owners who meet once a month and operate under the Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce — were just as excited at the turnout for this event.
“It’s a great turnout, it really is,” said Jeanette Coughenour, the manager of the Association of Poinciana Villages, the community’s homeowners association, and a past chairman of PAC. “It’s good for business.”
Farrell, the current chairman of PAC, said interest in this event has gotten stronger each year.
“We’ve had to expand it to two venues now because it’s so big,” she said. “We have an awful lot of vendors that came back year after year.”
This year, PAC introduced something new: an opportunity for individual business owners to address the crowd.
“We actually have a BizMin now,” Farrell said. “They paid $10 to do a business minute. They get to talk about their businesses for a minute.”
“We’re doing one every 60 minutes,” added Vianca McCluskey, the team leader of the Business Expo. “I just thought it would be a neat thing to do. Last year it just kind of spontaneously happened.”
The event is held as a fund-raiser for PAC, to allow the council to raise money for scholarships given to graduating high school students.
“We have raised over $4,000 today for our scholarships,” Farrell said.
It was also a way for businesses to find a wider audience, and the crowds may also have turned out for the food that was available at the event – “We have a lot of pizza outside,” Farrell said – and for the demonstration provided by the Poinciana High Junior ROTC.
Several of the ROTC students were at the expo to help out before the doors opened, including Kalil Negron.
“We’re helping set up all the booths, for whoever needs help,” he said. “It’s actually pretty cool. I love helping out.”
So did student Jade Vadnos, who just got an ROTC scholarship for a career in the Navy.
“Our drill teams will also be performing, and we’ll be an example of what we do,” she said. “It’s a culmination of years putting this together. I’ve been doing this for four years.”
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