Zachary Miller had just finished graduate school and started his new business on Charleston’s West Side. He didn’t know anyone in the business community so he decided to attend the West Side Main Street Business Expo last year.
“That really gave me the foundation of my business network -- coming to the expo last year,” Miller said.
Miller’s business -- Kanawha Individual Development Solutions or KIDS -- is growing like the West Side Business Expo itself.
The inaugural expo three years ago had 14 participating businesses, while last year’s event hosted about 25 businesses. This year more than 40 businesses -- both for-profit and non-profit -- gathered at Royal Automotive Thursday to showcase what the West Side has to offer.
West Side Main Street director Stephanie Johnson said the expo is the most popular event for the business owners.
“It seems to grow exponentially every year and that’s really exciting,” Johnson said. “The West Side is comprised of such a diverse group of organizations and businesses and that’s definitely being well represented here.”
Attending businesses included the United Way, the Charleston Area Alliance, Cunningham Park Johnson Funeral Home, First Bank of Charleston and local artist Charly Hamilton.
“It’s an opportunity for businesses to connect with residents and really take up community pride again,” said Kimberly Osborne, West Virginia State University vice president for university relations and operations. “It’s an opportunity for revitalization efforts to gain another step up.”
West Side Main Street and the West Virginia State University Economic Development Center are a few ways the university tries to help stimulate business growth and revitalization efforts, Osborne said.
She is hopeful other Charleston businesses will see how West Side businesses are progressing. She believes there is a city mentality to economic development.
“[Parts of] the Charleston economy [are] reliant [on each other] whether you are on the East End, the West Side, in South Hills or over in North Charleston -- we are all one economy,” Osborne said.
Miller said it’s important to connect with the people who live in the neighborhood too. His business serves as a academic resource that tries to provide struggling students with resources they can take back to the classroom to improve overall schoolwork.
“My clients come from the neighborhood,” Miller said. “It gives me a the opportunity to reach out to a client who might otherwise be hesitant to stop and talk to me.”
At this year’s expo, Miller is hoping more businesses and community members learn about the variety of services his business provides from the creative child care art center to the academic scholarship program sponsored by area businesses.
Miller isn’t a stranger to the West Side either. He grew up there.
“With the renovations that are happening it just seemed liked the neighborhood to be in,” Miller said.
Miller wanted to be where revitalization efforts were focused. He added the West Side also had enticing rental properties and affordable leasing opportunities for his business.
The $50 investment to rent a table at the expo is well worth the investment, Miller added.
“It’s an invigorating event,” Osborne said. “People are proud of where they live and where they work. And they should be.”
Reach Caitlin Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5113 or follow @caitlincookWV on Twitter.