Several Georgia state government organizations will be joining together in the spotlight tent at the upcoming Sunbelt Expo to help recruit for and expand the agribusiness sector of the state’s economy.

The overall goal of the exhibits is ambitious — to boost the state’s economy and bring more Georgians into the active workforce.

These exhibits will be located at B-6 of the exhibit grounds, where spotlight state exhibits were located in previous years.

“Growing Georgia at the Speed of Business” will be the overall theme for the spotlight exhibits, which will offer a one-stop shopping center for anyone seeking to expand agricultural and related business opportunities in the Southeast.

As part of the exhibits, Expo visitors are invited to sample some of the food products grown and manufactured by Georgia-based farms and companies.

Representatives will be available throughout the Expo to pass out samples of their products. For instance, the Georgia Organics organization will be on hand, along with Georgia-based organic farmers and participants of The Flavor of Georgia food product contest.

All these food processors will cast the spotlight on delicious, original food from Georgia to sample. Organizers believe the food samples will provide tasty treats for visitors as well as a great opportunity for these businesses to showcase their products and to help expand name recognition and sales for their food items.

Donnie Smith, a farmer from Coffee County, Ga., who also serves as agriculture liaison to Gov. Sonny Perdue and as director of the Georgia Center of Innovation for Agribusiness, says he’s excited about the opportunity Expo presents to expand agribusiness ventures in the state.

“The Sunbelt Expo has done so much for agriculture in this state, and we are pleased to have this opportunity to showcase some Georgia agribusinesses that might not otherwise be represented at Expo.

“Georgia has a lot to offer to agribusinesses and the spotlight exhibits at Expo are a great opportunity for us to highlight the expertise, research and  tremendous economic and natural resource assets that our state has to offer.”

Much of the expertise he speaks of can be found within the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD), the state’s sales and marketing arm, the lead agency for attracting new business investment, and the organization for encouraging the expansion of existing industry and small businesses and locating new markets for Georgia products.

Several organizations that are part of the Georgia Department of Economic Development will staff the spotlight exhibits. These include the Center of Innovation for Agribusiness; the Center of Innovation for Energy; the Agribusiness, Food Processing, Bioenergy & Logistics Team; the Existing Industry & Regional Recruitment Team; and the International Trade Division.

Sarah Cook, program specialist in the Center of Innovation for Agribusiness, is helping coordinate the exhibits.

Focus on innovative products

“In our center, we focus on ag businesses interested in creating innovative products or processes,” she says. “We help companies secure university research grants that can help their businesses. Our main goal is to connect companies with university researchers and identify research that can quickly get their products commercialized.

“We also put them in touch with other experts who can help if they have a need for new markets, new products, additional services, and suppliers.

“For example, we’re currently working with a company in Georgia to secure a research grant for funding energy crop research. The company is interested in a new biomass plant called miscanthus. Some of this research is taking place on the Expo farm this year where a new planting of miscanthus has been established.

“Once the research proves the potential of miscanthus as a high yielding perennial grass for use as a biofuel feedstock for Georgia, our counterparts in the Center of Innovation for Energy will be available to assist in establishing biomass manufacturing plants that can use the miscanthus,” Cook says.

GDEcD’s Agribusiness, Food Processing, Bioenergy and Logistics Team will be at Expo to assist out-of-state companies that may be interested in relocating their ag businesses in Georgia.

The Existing Industry and Regional Recruitment Team will also have an exhibit staffed by project managers aimed at helping current Georgia-based ag businesses expand their operations.

This group is able to help find business locations along with incentives to locate in Georgia communities. For instance, they can identify tax breaks and similar incentives that can help make expansion within the state a profitable venture.

Also during Expo, representatives of GDEcD’s International Trade Division will be on hand to meet with international visitors and international exhibiting companies to introduce them to Georgia-based suppliers of farm equipment and services.

This is also a great source of contact for foreign-based companies seeking to expand their manufacturing, distribution and marketing operations in the Southeast.

The Sunbelt Agricultural Exposition runs Oct. 19-21 in Moultrie, Ga.