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This year's FOCO Expo was the biggest gathering yet of local businesses, community
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Several local performing arts companies gave demonstrations on at the 2019 FOCO Expo on Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019, at the Forsyth Conference Center. - photo by Brian Paglia

With food trucks, face painting, a bouncy castle and a roaming therapy pony named Scooter; the 2019 FoCo Expo, held on Thursday night at Forsyth Conference Center, looked less like a county business convention and more like a community block party.

And according to representatives from the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, that feel was totally calculated and part of the chamber’s ongoing effort to form connections in the community.

Members of the community and their families streamed in and out of the conference center, enjoying food and drinks from Tacos and Tequila, Flatbread Bistro and Cherry Street Brewery, while meeting with vendors from 84 businesses and non-profits from the local area.

"We're hoping that we can connect the Forsyth County community with the local businesses here, to encourage them to stay in Forsyth County and to buy local," said Jessie Martin, associate events director at the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce. "The attendees get that face to face with that business to really understand what they are about."

Martin said that with the growing popularity of the annual event, this year they had a record-breaking number of vendor booths. An uptick that they believe is tied to the switch to a more “family fun” style event, that was made several years ago.

“We've hosted the expo for a long time,” said Laura Stewart, director of communication and events at the Chamber. “But about four years ago we tried to really change the event from more of a trade show atmosphere to one that was more community-focused, engaging residents, families, as well as the business community."

By infusing the event with fun, Stewart said they can draw more people and foster more community engagement and community connections.

“It's a good opportunity to provide residents with the knowledge and access to buy local, but to also connect them with local non-profits so that they can find ways to volunteer, to engage in other organizations in the community," she said.

And on the flip side, the event also provided a valuable opportunity for the 84 vendors to meet their community, learning more about their needs and what they could do for them.

During the event, Raul Gomila, general manager for Hyundai of Cumming, said the event was an amazing opportunity for his business to begin making in-roads with the community.

As a business that has only been in Forsyth County for a little over a year and a half, he said that Hyundai of Cumming just doesn’t have that history in the community that other dealerships might have. This event and others like it are the steps towards that goal.

"We want to be part of this vibrant community and get involved in all the community events," Gomila said.  "Every community has needs and we have to discover what those are, so we need a little more history and little more time."

At the end of the night Gomila and the chamber of commerce even raffled off a 2019 Hyundai Elantra, another piece of goodwill put out into the community, he said.

For other groups, like the non-profit Family Promise of Forsyth County, the event goes beyond the river of local residents they meet, giving them face to face time with other local businesses and non-profits that could help them better their organization.

"We have information that we can share with them about how they can get involved with us,” said Tina Huck, executive director of Family Promise of Forsyth County.  "We can sit down with them and talk about how they can put their skills to work serving the community."