APEX — For the first time in at least a couple of years, the Apex Chamber of Commerce annual Business Expo sold out of spaces for exhibitors.
It’s another sign that the economy is recovering, said Graham Wilson, executive director of the chamber, which hosted the expo on Wednesday.
“The fact that we sold out shows that businesses in Apex are starting to get out and invest in marketing again,” Wilson said. “They’re able to come here and are generating qualified leads.”
The unemployment rate in Apex, like in other southwestern Wake County towns, continues to beat the state average of 8.9 percent. With a 5.2 percent jobless rate in March, Apex is on par with neighbors Cary and Holly Springs, which had 5.2 percent and 6.3 percent rates, respectively, according to the N.C. Department of Commerce Division of Employment Security.
About 50 businesses and nonprofits from Cary, Apex and the surrounding area came to the expo to share information about services ranging from radio to health care to dog-camp programs.
The turnout last week was a stark contrast to a few years ago, said Dave Cozzarelli, president of the chamber.
“As the economy went down, so did the level of participation from our exhibitors,” he said. “There were a few years where we weren’t able to sell all the booths.”
The event attracted businesses like Camp Bow Wow, which has a site in Cary but also serves dog owners in Apex, Fuquay-Varina and Holly Springs. The dog-boarding site and day camp has seen its business grow exponentially since 2010, said Summer Martin, marketing director.
Three years ago, the site was seeing about 15 to 20 dogs a day, she said. Now there are about 60 to 100 dogs a day.
“The Cary/Apex area has been good to us,” Martin said.
Olivia Scott, co-owner of Promotional Partners, an Apex firm that sells marketing apparel and merchandise, said business has held steady.
“What I’ve noticed is that my clients are starting to get creative,” she said. “Instead of having a separate budget for employee recognition and another for company branding, they are mixing it up.”
Companies used to buy trophies to recognize good employees, she said. Now some of them are coming to Scott to buy duffel bags, hats, shirts and other items that feature their company logo as a way to say “thank you” to employees while getting the company’s name out there.
Trans World Radio, a Cary-based Christian ministry, used the expo to help spread the word about its business. The company helps broadcast Christian programs in 230 languages in 160 countries, said Tommy Williamson, area director of ministry partnerships.
“We’re here because we realized that everyone was listening to our message overseas, (but) no one knew we were here,” he said. “We wanted to let people know we are here in the community.”
While businesses used the expo to their advantage, the venue highlighted a gap in Apex’s business needs: The town lacks a big convention-style facility.
The chamber hosted this year’s expo at Prestonwood Country Club in Cary because there is no venue in Apex that can hold about 150 people and has enough parking, Wilson said.
“It’s going to be up to some entrepreneur to build it,” he said. “Someone with a vision.”