H-SANTA MARIA

Jun 16, 2011 10:31 PM by Ariel Wesler

Business trade show sells out in Santa Maria

Here's a good sign for the economy. The 26th Annual Santa Maria Valley Business Trade Show is sold out for the first time in three years. It's the largest business trade show between L.A. and San Francisco. The Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce says it even had to turn away some vendors this year. Around 125 businesses showcased their products and services. There was food, prizes, games, and a lot of optomism about the future of the Santa Maria economy.

Business owners are battling back from a down economy in Santa Maria. Jane Kokkinakis owns Russco Office Interiors.

"We are what I would say cautiously enthusiastic," Kokkinakis said.

She recently brought back some of her employees after laying off 12 of them in 2008.

"The end of the first quarter, we started to see companies that I think have been just tired of feeling beat up and saying we're just going to move forward, so we're that way too," Kokkinakis said.

Manufacturing and industry are leading the comeback for Santa Maria. The Chamber of Commerce points to a 7 percent increase in retail sales since the end of last year as well as a boost in tourism.

"It's our hope that they will be the leaders of the pack and bring the rest of the economy with them," said Dave Cross, Economic Development Director for the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Business owners have had to get creative, expanding their product line and networking.

"I've joined rotary. I belong to the National Association of Women in Construction," Kokkinakis said.

One big opportunity is the trade show.

"You're able to give your business a face, a personality, touch these people directly and make a bigger impact," said Marcy Lariz, who helped coordinate the event.

Though the recovery is slow, Kokkinakis says every lit bit helps.

"We look at all the companies that have come and gone in Santa Maria and one the Central Coast, and we're really glad to still be here."

In fact, small business owners, like Kokkinakis, employ almost three-quarters of Santa Maria's workforce.

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