Have you ever looked forward to something for so long wishing the time would tick by faster — only to think to yourself when the date finally arrives “where did the time go?”

We have been counting down to Monday, Aug. 13, for well over two years now as the opening day of the The Packer’s inaugural Midwest Produce Expo in downtown Chicago.

The event not only represents countless hours of research, planning and preparation, but also — and more importantly — a response to the collective voice of the produce industry.

Over the years we have seen a steady increase in the desire to find more cost effective ways to have meaningful conversations between buyers and sellers.

No doubt, the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit and the United Fresh Expo will continue to serve the market with world-class events that demonstrate the bounty and creativity that is the produce industry, but even for them it is difficult to be all things to all people.

The volume of noise combined with the sheer size and stimulation offered at the big shows is always a stunning example of how vibrant the produce industry can be, but it also presents some barriers for intimacy in communication and specific messages for the multitude of buyers from around the country.

In 2010, we commissioned an in-depth research study to shed some light on the opportunities to add value to the produce industry, and we were pointed toward the success of the regional trade events in the Southeast, Northeast and West Coast areas.

These events were being highly touted as “cost effective,” “intimate” and “meaningful.” It was also apparent that geography mattered. With the coastal areas covered by strong organizations, we found our opportunity right in our backyard — the Midwest.

We live here and understand (and gladly accept) the Midwest is simply what many people see from the airplane while flying coast to coast.

We know better.

It is a vibrant mix of hard working, down-to-earth and morally strong people. In addition, it is an area of extraordinary opportunity.

Major cities from Ohio on the east to Colorado on the West; south to Texas and north into Canada all have their own unique subcultures (some more than others — thank you, Texas!).

Representing all of these regions is no simple task, but the Midwest Produce Expo has taken on the challenge.

This week’s conference will see more than 1,000 attendees joining us for a first-time event.

We’re proud of this success for a first-time show. The Midwest Produce Expo is built for meaningful dialogue with more than 150 exhibitors and three days of activity that includes casual networking, educational consumer and local trends sessions, retail and market tours, and a keynote speech from a dynamic 13-year old girl.

The time has flown by, and we are as ready as we ever will be.