Helping Sunbelt Shine

Chip Blalock promotes agribusiness through the Sunbelt Expo

The Sunbelt Agricultural Exposition in Moultrie, Georgia, in mid-October boasts more than 1,200 vendors and exhibitors, a 600-acre farm, and thousands of attendees looking to learn about the latest agricultural and related research and equipment.

Expo Executive Director Chip Blalock (BSA – Animal Science, ’87) — aptly nicknamed “Mr. Expo” by some — has been at the helm of the event for two decades.

Originally from Athens, Georgia, Blalock got his start running the University of Georgia Block and Bridle Club’s Great Southland Stampede Rodeo. He was chairperson of the event during his senior year at the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

“It taught me skills like teamwork, the importance of committees and having good committee chairs to do their thing without micromanaging them,” he said. “Just being a 22-year-old kid exposed to signing a contract with a stock contractor and knowing that if we didn’t come through, it had my name on it, that taught me a lot of responsibility early on that I carry to this day.”

After working as a UGA Cooperative Extension agent, then in sales for a few years, Blalock was hired as the assistant director for the Sunbelt Expo by Ed White in August 1997, but ended up the executive director two months later when White suddenly passed away a week before the doors opened.

The best advice Blalock received came from former head of security Roy Lightfoot.

“He said, ‘You just shake the hands and kiss the babies and let us take care of everything else,’” Blalock said. “That situation gave me a great perspective.”

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Sunbelt Expo and, while the premise is still the same, Blalock and his team always look for ways to improve the experience for guests, add exhibits that reflect today’s needs, and showcase the latest research from corporations, UGA and all of the Southeastern land-grant universities.

“In agricultural research, we have a big responsibility to feed, clothe and provide shelter for the world,” Blalock said. “It’s a challenge, but the research that we do with universities and corporations is vital … It’s an honor to make sure the technology is tried and true so when the farmer gets it, they’re ready to go.”

Blalock enjoys traveling to promote Sunbelt Expo and speaking to Extension professionals, Farm Bureau leaders and teachers. He also travels to visit the Swisher Sweets Farmer of the Year finalists in each of the 10 Southeastern states represented.

Additionally, Blalock spent the past two years as president of the Farm Show Council, a coalition in which about two dozen agricultural trade show leaders share their latest information and best practices.

“He’s led us through so many changes,” said Gina McDonald, the Sunbelt Expo’s vice president for marketing. “We’ve got to be progressive and forward thinking, and he’s that person for us. He’s a great leader and friend. He gives you room to grow and listens to all ideas. We work together and he leads as a group. We’re a true team.”

By Josh Paine

Sunbelt Agricultural Exposition Executive Director Chip Blalock celebrates the 40th anniversary of the expo with Suzanne Griffeth, CAES director of alumni engagement.