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City, Chamber, USDA come together to host inaugural expo
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The Gordon Pirkle Room inside the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame was filled with 30 vendors and service providers from USDA, local real estate and insurance agencies and other local and state organizations to assist business and home owners at the inaugural Dawsonville Home and Business Expo on March 28. - photo by Jessica Taylor

The city of Dawsonville in partnership with the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce and USDA Rural Development hosted its inaugural Dawsonville Home and Business Expo at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame last week.

“The city and the chamber have been very supportive and very helpful because we could not have done it on our own,” USDA Area Specialist Kathy Forster said.

Approximately 30 service providers set up booths and filled the Gordon Pirkle Room March 28 for business owners and community members to learn more about services available to them.

“Really the purpose of the expo is to provide an avenue for if you’re starting a new business or are trying to grow your business. There’s vendors here who can assist with that and as well as if you’re interested in purchasing a home or repairing your home,” Chamber of Commerce Membership Director Melissa Mayton said.

Service providers included lenders, realtors, insurance agencies and other local, state and federal agencies ready to assist the community by providing information on loan opportunities and grants that are available.

“We’ve been doing these types of events for about five years… and this is probably one of the best turnouts we’ve had,” USDA Rural Development Area Director David Mull said.

The Rural Development wing of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has hosted business expos as a way to highlight USDA and SBA loans that communities might not be aware of and to help create a network of support between service providers.

“It’s almost more than an expo. It’s a community collaborative,” City Councilman Stephen Tolson said.

Tolson, who helped support the expo, said service providers have established networks while at the expo that will help provide better support to the citizens.

“Often people don’t know what’s out there and available for them, especially if you’re in a rural county,” Chamber of Commerce President Christie Moore said. “If you haven’t looked at a USDA loan you are missing out because there are so many phenomenal programs and I think that is a big part of this today.”

Tolson agreed and said while serving on the board for Family Connection, the board wanted to address the need for affordable elderly housing and discovered that USDA has a program that can help, something he didn’t expect.

“When you look at the citizens and what’s there to help them, the people that maybe need roofing or heating and air that couldn’t necessarily afford that, you know, USDA is there for them to help them with all of those things,” City of Dawsonville HR Manager Donna Blanton said.

Representatives from USDA were on site to assist with questions on farm loans, home and home repair loans and public bodies and nonprofit assistance as well as opportunities for business startups, expansions, business plans and financial projections.

“So many people don’t know what these organizations. I didn’t know what they do, so it’s important that we all learn what we do so we can partner together and work together to better different areas whether it be housing or environmental or water and waste, or trying to help somebody with a business plan,” USDA State Director Joyce White said.

According to White, USDA Rural Development is the sixth largest bank in the nation, and that this year the current administration has allotted $215 million to spend in Georgia which will mostly be used for low interest loans.

“We want to see that Georgia gets its fair share and get it out in the rural areas and bring some jobs to the rural areas,” White said.

Based on the success of the first expo, Moore and Blanton said they hope to grow the event next year by possibly tying it in with the food truck nights and farmers market.

Though the next expo won’t be for some time, Blanton said she hopes the citizens know that they can always reach out to the city or the Chamber of Commerce where they will be put in touch with the right person for their business and home needs.

“What I would like for the citizens to know is that there are people here for them whatever their needs are and even if it’s not the day of the event they know that they can still call one of us and we know who to put them with,” Blanton said.