'Hopefully 2024 is the year for us': Pre-debate vendor fair helps local businesses

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- As Republican presidential hopefuls prepared to take the debate state at Fiserv Forum Wednesday night, hometown businesses were busy showcasing their products and services to potential customers.

The MKE 2024 Host Committee partnered with the Republican National Comittee and Visit MKE to host a first-of-its-kind vendor fair at the Baird Center in downtown Milwaukee, giving local businesses the chance to foster relationships for when the Republican National Convention comes to Milwaukee in 2024.

"We're just really excited to be able to elevate Milwaukee to such a national platform," said Elise Strupp with MobCraft Brewery. "We wanted to be here and make sure that everybody coming by knows that there's a ton of awesome craft breweries, and just to show the event space we have to hopefully host some groups next summer."

Peggy Williams-Smith, the President and CEO of VISIT Milwaukee, says the city is looking at over $200 million in economic impact for local businesses during the RNC next summer.

"If you've walked anywhere downtown [during debate week], all of our restaurants are busy. Deer District was packed," Williams-Smith said. "500 journalists in town right now. There will be 15,000 for the actual event next year and over 50,000 people. They'll all be able to experience what all of us here in Milwaukee already know, that we've got an amazing city."

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson, a Democrat, addressed a crowd and media at the vendor fair, saying it was important for him to put the city's interests ahead of politics when advocating for bringing the RNC to Milwaukee.

"The convention that'll happen in Milwaukee next year is going to present an incredible opportunity for Milwaukee," Mayor Johnson said. "I don't want Milwaukee to be in some other city's shadow. We're a city of our own and this convention is helping us to stand up and say, 'Hey, we will be seen, we will be heard, we want more business, we want more things like this in Milwaukee in the future.'"

The Republican National Committee's Chairwoman, Ronna McDaniel, commended Mayor Johnson's hospitality.

"This is about people coming together and caring about your community," McDaniel said. "He (Johnson) said, 'How do I bring the eyes of the world and tourism and revenue into the city that I love?' That is what leaders do. They put away their partisanship and they do what's best for the people they represent, and while we are very different politically, we are both absolutely committed to making this the best debate and the best convention for the city of Milwaukee that we possible can."

It's not just Milwaukee businesses that are hoping to benefit from the RNC. Alicia Green owns Tasteful Events Catering in Waukesha. She says the vendor fair on Wednesday helped start a lot of good conversations she hopes will lead to business opportunities for her during the RNC.

"It's going to open doors, opportunities, jobs within my company," Green said. "Hopefully, 2024 is the year for us."

Businesses looking to sign up to be a part of the MKE 2024 Host Committee's Vendor Portal can do so HERE

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