Q&A with Ty Cooper, organizer of the Black Business Expo, Sept 14

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This marks the third year that the Freefall Festival hosts the Charlottesville-Albemarle Black Business Expo. The Expo celebrates and supports black businesses in our community, and it’s free for business owners and the public to attend. This year’s Black Business Expo takes place on Saturday, September 14, 1 - 9 p.m. at IX Art Park.

We recently caught up with Ty Cooper, CEO of Lifeview Marketing & Visuals and lead organizer of the Black Business Expo.

NATHAN MOORE (WTJU 91.1 FM): What's the Black Business Expo all about?

TY COOPER (Lifeview Marketing): Well, it’s really to support the black businesses in the local area, but also to make sure that people are aware of these businesses. Some of these businesses may not have the budget to be able to promote their businesses in a way where the masses will be able to know who they are. So this is a place that we can bring people together and really expose them to those who don't know about them.

"We’re trying to boost a solid black middle class in Charlottesville"

NATHAN: Why do a Black Business Expo here in Charlottesville?

TY: Charlottesville has so much history of not being a place where minorities can thrive. I hear that from many people. This has been going on since way before August 2017, but since then, you hear a lot more about unfairness and inequality issues because of racial tensions that we have.

So many different people come together to have dialogue on how can we make things better for minority businesses, particularly black businesses. And I think this is one of the ways where we really can help make a difference. We’re trying to boost a solid black middle class in Charlottesville. One of the key ways of doing that is supporting entrepreneurship. These businesses are trying to make a difference in their households and their community.

I think it’s time to show support to these black businesses. This Black Business Expo is open for everyone. We have these booths showcasing many different black businesses – from finance to eateries to insurance companies and more. But we also have an educational component. We have three panel discussions with business leaders in this community to talk about finance, marketing, and how to attract consumers and maintain those relationships. We also have a business pitch competition, with cash prizes and marketing support for growth.

So it's a lot that we offer, and I think it’s really needed. It’s needed to help level the playing field or at least provide the opportunity for businesses to grow.

NATHAN: There's also an entertainment component to this. What's going on in terms of music and entertainment at the expo?

TY: One thing about Charlottesville – many black people feel the city lacks cultural representation of the black community. So when we have a Black Business Expo, it's about business, right? We’re trying to promote these businesses, we're trying to educate, we're trying to provide networking opportunities. But we also want to celebrate. We have international star Corey Harris performing, and opening acts, as well. It runs from 1 - 9 p.m., so we really have a full day and full evening of learning opportunities and entertainment.

NATHAN: You and I have talked about this a little bit, but there are other much larger metros with a much larger black middle class. And when they do a Black Business Expo, it's a whole different box of rocks. What are the challenges of doing a Black Business Expo like this in Charlottesville?

TY: There's several challenges that I'm trying to overcome. And not just me, but working with WTJU, the City of Charlottesville, and other entities supporting this, as well.

Comparatively speaking, we have a small number of black business owners. And we tend to have a lot of businesses in the same genre, like hair stylists and barber shops, eateries and catering companies. But we have shortages, in my opinion, of lawyers, accountants, car dealerships, and so on. So there’s a lot that we don’t have present and thriving in Charlottesville. That can be the challenge, trying to find a wide variety of black business.

NATHAN: What can folks expect? Where can folks find out more?

TY: They can look forward to having a great time. See the different business owners, be open to learn about what's out there that you may not know. It’s best for a person to go and be able find out more about what actually offered in this area. So come for learning, and come for being entertained by Corey Harris and the live music.

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