KET’s Connections previews two events headlining the month of August in central Kentucky: The 17th annual Lexington Bluegrass Area Minority Business Expo, coming to the Convention Center this Friday, and the inaugural Bourbon on the Banks Festival, scheduled for the weekend before Labor Day in downtown Frankfort.
Expo Fosters Diversity in Business Growth
Since it began in 2002, the Lexington Bluegrass Area Minority Business Expo has become the premier conference for women and minority entrepreneurs and business owners in the commonwealth. This year’s expo features keynote speeches by former University of Kentucky basketball star turned entrepreneur Tony Delk, and television producer Ericka Porter. Sessions at the day-long conference will explore a range of topics including cybersecurity, youth and gaming technology, branding, pitching a business, and financial success.
With more than 550 people expected to attend the event this year, Co-Chair Mike Runyon says the expo will provide excellent opportunities for networking with business owners who offer a range of services or who are looking for people who can provide them with a needed service or product.
“If you find that need in the marketplace, it doesn’t matter who you are,” says Runyon. “If you can provide that service, there’s a place for you, there’s somebody who wants you.”
But it’s not just current business owners who can benefit from the expo. Fellow Co-Chair Sherita Miller says the expo has a room that caters people who need help to plan and launch a new business.
“There’s a lot of resources out there that are available to small business owners and minority business owners, [but] they don’t know where to go,” says Miller. “So at the expo there’s going to be a business resource center where we put those agencies who can provide those resources to business owners all in one room. You’ll have the Small Business Development Center, the Kentucky Finance Cabinet, Community Ventures, the Women’s Business Center… they’ll be right there in one room.”
Another feature of this year’s expo is a business pitch competition where attendees can share their idea for a start-up company to a panel of judges from private corporations and government. Miller says Ericka Porter will provide the winner with a month of free consulting to help them refine their business pitch.
As the economy continues to improve, Miller says small businesses have a significant role to play in fostering that expansion.
“Doing business with diverse suppliers, whether they’re small, minority-owned, women-owned, or even veteran-owned, contributes to the overall growth of the economy, especially in Lexington,” she says.
The Lexington Bluegrass Area Minority Business Expo is Friday, Aug. 2 at the Lexington Convention Center. For more information, visit lexingtonmbe.com.
Festival Blends Bourbon and History
There’s no doubt that bourbon is booming in the commonwealth. The $8.6 billion industry now employs more than 20,000 Kentuckians at nearly 70 distilleries in all parts of the state. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail bustles with tourists from around the world every month of the year, and bourbon festivals draw huge crowds of enthusiasts and novices alike.
But when Wendy Kobler became the new vice president of institutional advancement at Kentucky State University, she wondered why Frankfort, the home of Buffalo Trace and other distilleries, didn’t have it’s own bourbon-oriented festival.
“Frankfort needed a nationally recognized bourbon event,” Kobler says “In addition to that, we needed to talk about the history of African Americans… and talk about their contributions to the bourbon industry.”
That’s when the idea of Bourbon on the Banks was born. The festival coming Aug. 22 – 24 to downtown Frankfort will feature, bourbon, food, music, and opportunities to learn about the unique contributions that African Americans have made to the industry from the time of slavery in America through today.
Among the guest speakers featured at the festival is KSU Associate Professor Erin Wiggins Gilliam, who is researching black workers at the state’s distilleries, as well as Fawn Weaver, the founder, CEO, and chief historian of Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey.
“Nathan ‘Nearest’ Green was the African American slave that taught Jack Daniels how to make Tennessee whiskey,” says Kobler. “He taught him the sour mash recipe.”
Although 95% of all bourbon is made in Kentucky, not all of the whiskey featured at the festival will be from the commonwealth. Kobler says more than 40 distillers will offer samples of their products, including WhistlePig, an acclaimed distiller of high-end rye whiskeys in Vermont. Visitors can sample other liquors as well, including gins made by Castle & Key in Frankfort and Holi Gin in Louisville, and brandy produced by Copper & Kings in Louisville.
Proceeds from the Bourbon on the Banks Festival will go to a scholarship program for students studying in the new fermentation and distillation program at Kentucky State University. Kobler says students will earn a certification to prepare them to work in the state’s growing bourbon industry.
“It’s our signature industry,” says Kobler, “and aren’t we glad we can claim it as our own?”
For more details about Bourbon on the Banks, visit www.bourbononthebanks.org.
Kobler is also a board member of the Kentucky Black Bourbon Guild, a new organization that helps women and minorities learn more about bourbon and how to responsibly enjoy the beverage.