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June 15, 2009 - The aim was simple: Make it easier for businesses and potential home buyers to accomplish their goals.

It would appear the state-sponsored free Business & Housing Expo achieved that Friday at Albany Technical College.

About 100 members of the community spoke with the various state agencies at the event, which included the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, Department of Economic Development and the Governor's Office of Customer Service, as well as other agencies and organizations.

Gov. Sonny Perdue, Georgia Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Mike Beatty and Technical College System of Georgia Commissioner Ron Jackson also spoke at the event late in the day. In his short talk, Perdue encouraged Georgians.

"We're here to help you thrive," said Georgia's 81st governor.

He later said it was important to be in Albany because "Albany has been harder hit than other areas" of the state.

Beatty said he hoped the expo would inspire someone that has been adversely affected by the economic downturn.

"Our idea was to look for people with a little mud on their feet, maybe someone who got laid off and wants to take charge of their life," said Beatty, who has been with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs for six years. "Someone that says I want to start my own business, and we have the tools here and I think this can really give people help.

"This is not a job fair."

Jackson said the expo was about letting people know how to utilize all the tools the state has to offer to help kick-start the economy from its current recession.

"The bottom line is we just need to make sure all Georgians know these services are available to them; the programs the state has to offer for small business and housing programs," Jackson said. "It's important for us for community outreach and that we're not here just for educational services. We're (offering) services to the community."

Realtor and business owner Dean Brown was among the community members. The owner of Heads Up Hair Care and a real estate agent for Albany Realty, Brown was interested in how she could boost her real estate numbers.

"I really came here for the Realtor part of my life and what I can offer the people of Albany," she said. "(I wanted to learn) what kind of homes I can put them in with the problems we're having with the economy."

Brown said she was impressed with the expo.

"I really enjoyed it," said Brown, who was at the event about 30 minutes. "(It was) not just for business people, but people in the community as a whole because information is power. If you don't know the question to ask, you don't know what to ask about."

Willie Jones said he also gained useful knowledge from the event.

"I got some brochures and got some information about the fair housing market and how to be a real estate investor and how this would be a good opportunity to take advantage of it," said Jones, who will begin taking classes at Albany Tech in the next couple of weeks.

Linda Westberry, an area specialist with the USDA's rural development office in Camilla, said the expo's attendance was steady throughout the day.

But even with the steady crowds, Albany Mayor Willie Adams said state officials would have to do more than visit the Good Life City and offer encouraging words.

"We're always grateful when they come down and pay us a visit, but we want results," Adams said. "We know all the economy's in turmoil, but all the growth cannot occur in and around Atlanta. We need energy relief for some of our industries so we can keep them in this part of the state.

"But, of course, we're grateful for anything our officials can do for us."

The Business & Housing Expo will continue today in Atlanta, Athens and Calhoun. The expos run from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.


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