Companies and organisations from across the boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell and Walsall and the city of Wolverhampton have come together for the first ever Black Country Business Festival over the next two weeks.
The launch event at the Black Country Living Museum drew leading political and business figures, all adding their support for the innovative project aimed at promoting businesses within the area and making sure the rest of the country recognises the contribution the Black Country makes the UK economy.
Andrew Griffiths, Small Business Minister at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, were among the line-up of high profile speakers who are taking part in the launch today.
Addressing the full house of guests at the museum, Coseley-born Mr Griffiths, MP for Burton upon Trent, hailed the festival as "a brilliant initiative", and declared his pride in being a local boy: "You can take the boy out of the Black Country, but you can't take the Black Country out of the boy."
He said the region was now making a £20bn contribution to the national economy, largely due to the efforts of smaller businesses across the Black Country. And he said the area remained "the manufacturing heart of the UK".
Mr Street said: “The Black Country Business Festival is a fantastic opportunity to showcase everything that is great about business in this part of the West Midlands.
"As a centre of manufacturing and engineering, the role of the Black Country in our regional economy cannot be understated and anything that showcases the excellence here is to be encouraged.
" I’m very much looking forward to being able to play my part in this event as well as others in the coming days.”
From now until May 3 there will be more than 120 events taking place across the Black Country – already making the festival the biggest event of its kind in the West Midlands – from online seminars and workshops to business exhibitions and tours of factories large and small. There will even be local business personalities taking part in a stand-up comedy challenge.
Business Festival events are all put on by local companies to benefit the people and businesses in the Black Country, and therefore help business growth, ultimately having a positive impact on the Black Country economy.
The festival is the brainchild of Corin Crane, chief executive of the Black Country Chamber of Commerce, who worked with events organisers Associate Events to recruit support from across the business world.
Mr Crane said: "We've been working on this virtually since I joined the chamber in October 2016. It is the first time anything like this has been done in the Black Country, bringing everything together to show just what we can do, and there has been a tremendous amount of support from across the business community.
"And it is gaining attention. People outside the area have been shocked to realise all that is going on here. They are getting the message that we mean business in the Black Country.
"And this is just the start of a three year commitment. Next year I am convinced we will see national companies wanting to be part of this festival, and the year after that we will be attracting international companies."
Alister de Ternant, of Associate Events, added: "We have been really thrilled by the amount of support this has gained from people in the Black Country in just its first year.
"It will be a showcase for the innovation, commerce and culture of the Black Country."
Also helping launch the festival today was even compere Dawn Owen, a director of BodyKraft in Kingswinford, along with Black Country Living Museum chief executive Andrew Lovett, AF Blakemore & Son community affairs officers Liz Blakemore and Trevor Leeks, operations director at the Jaguar Land Rover engine factory on the i54 site, north of Wolverhampton.
Jatinder Sharma, principal and CEO of Walsall College, and Andy Cliffe, chief executive of M6 Toll operators Midlands Expressway, were also adding their voices in support of the festival.
As the festival gets under way, among a string of events taking place tomorrow, Walsall cake-makers Perfection Foods are hosting an tour and tasting at their Regal Drive plant to show healthier products can drive profits by attracting new customers. The company, based on Walsall Enterprise Park, has seen major success in recent years, expanding sales into Europe which resulted in it opening a second factory in 2012.
On Friday Andy Street will be back in the Black Country as the guest speaker at a diversity and inclusivity event being hosted by Higgs & Sons law firm at its Brierley Hill headquarters.
Paul Barker, a partner at Higgs & Sons, said of the event: “People perform better when they can be themselves and by creating a culture of respect and inclusion, businesses can attract and retain the best talent.
“How can we ensure that the Black Country keeps pace on diversity with other regions? With a focus on lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) inclusion, this seminar will look at what businesses can do to make a difference.”
The Black Country Business Festival will showcase the best that businesses in Wolverhampton, Sandwell, Dudley and Walsall have to offer. A packed programme of inspiring business events will be taking place right across the region.
Most events are completely free and anyone can attend. Tickets must be reserved in advance and they are available on a first come, first served basis via the website www.blackcountrybusinessfestival.com
More pictures and video from the launch will be online and in the Express & Star tomorrow.