Thirty-three vendors filled the Grande Ballroom of Fort Hood’s Phantom Warrior Center with a “Mil Expo” by the Killeen-based non-profit Innovation Black Chamber of Commerce Nov. 9.

The event, open to the public, celebrated National Veterans Week and highlighted small business and entrepreneurship opportunities for veterans, active duty military members and their families.

After an invocation and the playing of the National Anthem, IBCC President Ronnie Russell welcomed those in attendance, noting the importance of veteran-owned small businesses in the area.

“To all of the business owners who are prior-service (military), happy Veterans Day to you,” he said. “I did 22 years and two months. My thing to you is: you knew how to start over from scratch. Stay empowered, allow yourself to learn from the lessons you just went through, and pass it on to somebody else.”

Carl Webb, the co-chairman of the IBCC’s Economic Development Committee, said the event focused on more than just networking, instead hoping to build relationships among small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs in the greater Fort Hood area.

“It really is strength in numbers,” Webb said. “And strength in numbers is simply this right here, to be a resource to the community, because many people don’t know some of the opportunities and things that are out there.”

Webb said he was pleased with the response from the small business community, mentioning that he even had to turn away some late inquiries as the venue was already full for this event.

“The goal of the IBCC is really, simply to help people get it into their mind that though careers and jobs are great, … hey, start dreaming of being your own boss, having your own business and dreaming again in that way,” he said. “I spoke to a young lady, and she’s 26 years old, in school, and she’s a business owner. It’s that kind of stuff that excites me, to where I’m playing catch-up at 54 years old to be a business owner.”

Russell said the biggest benefit of the expo is creating synergy among a variety of small businesses in the local area as they create relationships and learn from each other.

“This is what it looks like when you bring economics from off-post and bring it on post, because the Fort Hood installation has its own economic bubble,” he said. “This is what the Mil Expo is about — merging economics to create an economic impact.”

The IBCC president said plans are in the works to hold future expos, and more often.

“My vision,” Russell said, “is to conduct these quarterly.”

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