Hilton Head chamber business expo starts Wednesday

Signs of a rebounding local economy should be evident at the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce's annual Business Expo that begins today, a chamber spokeswoman says.

Chamber officials expect a near-sellout, with 117 businesses -- about 17 more than last year -- sponsoring booths at the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa, which can accommodate 120 exhibitors.

Chamber spokeswoman Charlie Clark said businesses still face challenges but are more confident this year than last, when they hesitated to reserve space because of tighter marketing budgets.

Some businesses that did not participate last year returned this year.

"The mindset is different this year," Clark wrote in an e-mail.

Booths cost $540 to $565. The chamber allowed businesses to make payments on the booths.

The number of businesses participating in the expo's "Green Street," a special row of booths for businesses working to be more environmentally friendly, also increased this year -- from a few to 13.

The chamber, which has organized the annual expo for more than 20 years, says the event attracts more than 20,000 attendees and is the largest gathering of business people in the Lowcountry.