New, old companies mesh at 90th annual business expo

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Starting a new business in this economy can be a harrowing ordeal, but many upstarts are finding help from a likely source.

The South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual business expo on Oct. 28, and several of the booths featured companies that have opened in the past year. The gathering serves as a crucial link between businesses new and old.

“This event, it’s already been very successful for us,” said Tricia Engelbert, a Highlands Ranch resident and owner and CEO of Lakewood-based 5280 Drug Testing.

Engelbert’s drug-testing company joined the chamber earlier this month after being in business about a year. Her business has enjoyed significant growth in 2011, especially since July, and the expo brought her crucial exposure and contacts as she starts looking to expand her operation to other south metro municipalities.

Centennial-based Celebrity Lanes opened in September and is seeking to spread the word about its offerings. The bowling alley features a bar and grill with 40 beers on tap, a children’s zone, an outdoor patio and special events. Business has been increasing steadily, especially as the cold weather has arrived, but events planner Katelyn Smith said connecting with other chamber businesses will be an aid to further growth.

“It’s been great networking, making some contacts,” Smith said.

The expo featured about 90 local businesses, ranging from dental practices to bakeries. Some were established — like Littleton Adventist Hospital and Public Service Credit Union — while others were just making their start. Regardless of where they are in their evolution, Engelbert believes companies in a like-minded community can learn a lot from each other.

“We’re stronger together than we are alone, and I want to be a part of that,” she said.

Engelbert, a registered nurse and a mother of three, hopes her drug-testing business can be more than a service for customers. She hopes to form partnerships with the community to educate residents about the dangers of drug abuse. She’s particularly passionate about synthetic drugs, which have received a lot of attention from cities such as Littleton and Centennial in recent months.

“It’s not just about the bottom line. We really want to make a difference,” Engelbert said.

The expo, which in 2011 celebrated its 90th anniversary, included a chamber board of directors meeting, a leadership awards luncheon and an after-party. There also were professional seminars on such topics as financing a small business, building sales relationships and saving money for college. Because the first expo was in 1921, many participants dressed up in clothes from that era as part of a Roaring ’20s theme.

The south metro area of Denver includes several flourishing communities. If strong, new businesses mesh with established ones, the region could continue to grow despite economic troubles.

“Being a Colorado company, I’d like to invoke Colorado companies to keep it local,” Engelbert said. “That makes all of us stronger.”