SM CHAMBER — With tourism lagging and the economy still struggling, the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce is hoping its latest business expo, which takes place today, will provide local businesses with a needed boost.

Beginning at 5 p.m., about 70 exhibitors including merchants, non-profit organizations and City Hall departments will gather at the Sheraton Delfina Hotel near the Civic Center for the ninth annual Business & Consumer Expo. Several hundred attendees are expected to circulate among the booths during the three-hour event, which is free to the public.

With many businesses suffering, Laurel Rosen, the chamber’s president and CEO, said the hope is to bolster the local economy by helping businesses tap into their most natural clientele: consumers who live and shop in Santa Monica.

“This year it’s really about buy local,” Rosen said.

Another aim, though, is to promote City Hall as having “a business friendly climate.”

“Now more than ever [City Hall] realizes that the businesses help support the crucial services,” she said. “There’s never been a better relationship between the chamber and [City Hall] as there is now.”

Several City Hall departments will be exhibiting, including the Planning Department, which will have staff on hand to field questions about the Land Use and Circulation Element, the long-studied general plan update expected to go before the City Council for approval this year.

This year the event is all about networking, but Rosen said the chamber is already working on revamping next year’s Expo by adding an educational component through a partnership with Santa Monica College. She said she envisions workshops to help small businesses adapt sustainable practices and take advantage of social media.

In light of the difficult economy, Rosen said the Expo comes at the right time this year.

“People leave this event feeling very uplifted,” she said.

Companies that participate say they see a range of benefits to taking part.

“It’s a great opportunity to network with all of the different entities that support the goings on in Santa Monica,” said Julia Cooksey, the Verizon’s director of government and external affairs.

But there’s also a more tangible upside.

“From a business perspective we definitely want to share the products and services that Verizon as a company has to offer,” she said.

Santa Monica-based Rand Corp. is a first-time participant. And while the non-profit research organization doesn’t have much a local customer base to reach, Iao Katagiri, Rand’s deputy vice president of external affairs and the chair of the chamber’s board, said there are plenty of reasons for being involved.

As a long-time chamber member, Katagiri said Rand has always seen itself as an important part of the Santa Monica community.

“It’s a very participatory community and everybody has a role to play and we all ought to step up and be active in whatever way is appropriate for us,” she said.

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