Carrie Ghose - Staff Reporter, Columbus Business First
The National Association of Women Business Owners is bringing its annual convention to Columbus, home to its largest chapter – and more importantly, a showcase for the trade group's policy issues in a key presidential swing state.
Two of NAWBO's nine national board members are from Central Ohio – Kathy Warnick, its chairwoman-elect, and Jeanette Armbrust, this year's treasurer. They asked to bring the 2016 convention to Columbus and intend to impress attendees with a new place to do business or perhaps relocate.
“We’re hoping for 1,000 women business owners from across the country,” said Warnick, who owns a Powell consulting business. "We’re talking actual decision makers.
“I think Columbus is just a little bit under-appreciated," she said. "We’re kind of a hip little community here and I think we have a lot to offer.”
The overall theme of the Sept. 18-20 event is encouraging women entrepreneurs to break barriers and step into leadership roles in corporate boards and public service. Ohio state Sen. Charleta Tavares, a Columbus Democrat, and former Ohio Lt. Gov. Jennette Bradley, a Republican, will participate on a panel on how to get started seeking elected office.
“We really aim to give the attendees the full spectrum of (information and tools) they need to run their business,” said Joy Lutes, vice president of external affairs in NAWBO’s Washington, D.C., office.
Rather than endorsing any candidate, NAWBO seeks to get its issues affecting small businesses and women-owned businesses before all candidates.
“We represent 9.4 million women business owners; you need to be aware of what we feel, what we need, how we see things going,” Armbrust said. “That makes it easy not to be partisan.”
The Columbus chapter has nearly tripled membership in the last five years, to nearly 270.
“I really feel Columbus is a great place to be a women entrepreneur,” said Armbrust, CEO of Skyline Exhibits of Central Ohio LLC, the local franchise of an event production and trade show marketing company.
Warnick said she's hiring and trying to prepare her five-person consulting firm to handle her increased travel schedule when she takes over as national chairwoman next July 1. The pace already is picking up. But handling challenges is one of the reasons she's in NAWBO in the first place, she said.
"I can pick up the phone and in half an hour I can get 10 women ... to pick up the phone and talk to me: 'What do you need, Kathy? What can I help you with?'" she said.