MARION -- State Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, was all smiles Saturday as he made his way around and among the 165 businesses and several thousand visitors to the Second Annual Southern Illinois Made Expo at The Pavilion in Marion.
After the great success of last year's inaugural expo, Fowler had a hunch that it could be even bigger this year -- and it was with over 2,000 people attending on Saturday opening and an equally large turnout was expected on Sunday, the final day of the two-day event.
Fowler came up with the idea shortly after taking office.
"We have so many amazing products and services here in Southern Illinois, and I thought this would be a great way to help them get the word out that they're here and they're thriving."
Fowler also said that all monies raised by the $5-per-person entry fee to attend would be donated to Southern Illinois Honor Flight.
Last year, they were able to raise $30,000 from ticket sales and vendor fees and Fowler felt strongly that this year's final numbers would top that.
Businesses participating in this year's expo varied in size from Marion-based Aisin Manufacturing, which employs thousands, down to smaller so-called mom-and-pop operations such as D & M Honey of Carrier Mills, whose only employees are the owners, Mike Grant and Debbie McVey.
Grant says that the expo gives them a chance to let people know who they are and what they produce, adding, "I have the bees and harvest the honey while Debbie creates all the related products we offer."
Senator Fowler spent much of Saturday greeting each of the 165 vendors at this year's expo, pausing to say, "Each vendor seems very pleased with the response of the general public and the great thing about this event is that not only do we highlight local businesses and services here in Southern Illinois, but also the fact that the money we raise here will benefit future Veterans Honor Flights in Southern Illinois. We're highlighting local businesses, we're helping honor our veterans and we're showcasing tourism. It's really a win-win for everybody."