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Discover the Southern Illinois Made Expo this weekend

  • Keith T. Dismuke of Harrisburg displays the Hopper Topper, his patented invention to reduce grain spillage. Dismuke will be among the more than 150 vendors this weekend at the Southern Illinois Made Expo at The Pavilion in Marion.

    Keith T. Dismuke of Harrisburg displays the Hopper Topper, his patented invention to reduce grain spillage. Dismuke will be among the more than 150 vendors this weekend at the Southern Illinois Made Expo at The Pavilion in Marion.
    FILE PHOTO

 
By Brett Pinkerton
Contributing writer
updated: 7/27/2018 3:10 PM

An idea nine years in the making will feature businesses and products from across the region this weekend, as the inaugural Southern Illinois Made Expo opens this weekend in Marion.

The expo, hosted by state Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, highlights more than 150 Southern Illinois vendors displaying and selling their locally-made products to wholesale buyers. The event will convene at the Pavilion of the city of Marion, 1602 Sioux Drive, just off Williamson County Parkway behind the Illinois Centre mall.

The SI Made Expo began as the brainchild of Fowler in 2009. His involvement with the Delta Regional Authority Institute's Leadership Program gave Fowler his first opportunity to showcase his idea for promoting local merchandise.

"Business has always been a huge part of my background," Fowler said. "I always thought it would be neat to showcase southern-Illinois-made products and the southern Illinois companies that make these products."

After a successful pitch to the Southern Illinois Regional Chamber of Commerce, Fowler pursued his idea with a fervor that has since given him the opportunity to spotlight the best in Southern Illinois wares while simultaneously getting to know the people behind the products.

One of those people is Keith T. Dismuke of Harrisburg, inventor of the Hopper Topper. Dismuke's invention, geared toward the salvaging of grain for farmers, caught the attention of Fowler early on.

"When I started to present and talk about the Hopper Topper, he immediately asked me to talk to him about it," Dismuke said.

"I didn't even have a patent yet. I had the idea," Dismuke said. "I was going to the bank to look for some financial help and that's when Dale and I sat down and got more serious about it. He offered to connect me with some other people who could help me with marketing and small business administration."

The expo will be the largest vending opportunity Dismuke has had since he achieved his patent.

His strategy for sales among a high volume of other vendors is simply never to discount his local (and primary) target group.

"Start with the people that are closest to you and work your way out," Dismuke said.

Citing a growing interest in the Hopper Topper outside of the region, Dismuke acknowledges the importance of a strong local connection in spreading interest about any new product.

"Eventually they'll come around," Dismuke said.

This year's expo will feature products ranging from local food to athletic equipment, to agricultural products, and even to virtual reality technology.

Interested buyers will be able to sample the local taste in addition to experiencing the entrepreneurial spirit of Southern Illinois-based vendors.

"What I really try to do as a state senator is to capitalize on the resources that we have in place in Southern Illinois," Fowler said. "A lot of those resources, when it comes to economic development, are the companies that we already have in place."

In addition to the multiple vendors, Fowler will also be making his staff available to customers via an information booth outside the expo's primary Pavilion location.

The booth will be open to the public and will give those interested an opportunity to speak with members of Fowler's team in addition to asking questions and connecting with the representative's base. No appointments are required.

The expo runs 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 28-29 at The Pavilion, 1602 Sioux Drive in Marion.

All proceeds will go to benefit the Veterans Honor Flight of Southern Illinois.

Despite a full booth capacity, those interested may fill out a vendor registration form for the event available on the expo's website www.simade.org.

Interested vendors will be placed on a waiting list. Booth prices begin at $50.