“Just like a female often feels more comfortable having a female gynecologist, many African-Americans like to have African-American doctors because you feel like they understand the health risks you both face as African-Americans,” Robertson said. “And there are other professions that culturally you may feel you have more in common with and will just naturally trust more if they share in your culture, like a lawyer or an insurance agent, and naturally, you want to support your own community.”
So, over seven years later, Robertson decided to turn his and others’ frustrations into a solution in January with the development of Black Cobb Pages, an online directory of African American-owned businesses in Cobb.
The directory, which began six months ago and will be launched tomorrow in collaboration with the eighth-annual Juneteenth celebration on Saturday, will be free for consumers to use and browse, but businesses that want to participate will have to pay a fee.
So far, Robertson said he has 200 businesses registered through word-of-mouth marketing, and his ultimate goal is to reach 1,000 listings.
“It’s a simple solution that will connect consumers,” Robertson said. “It’s not about excluding anyone, but rather to provide an economic muscle for these businesses to grow so they are able to invest more in Cobb County.”
Don Johnson, a State Farm Insurance agent in east Cobb for 25 years and a member of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, said he is not only signed up as a business in the directory, but will also use the directory as a consumer.
“When people want information, they want it immediately,” Johnson said. “People are busy, and today, they don’t want to visit around to different agents and decide on whom they want. They don’t want to wait, they want to find that business and go with it.”
As an insurance agent, specifically, Johnson said having his name in the directory might appeal to those who do not otherwise have insurance.
“It will provide information to them, specifically those who may have a lack of knowledge about insurance services, but then it is up to me to articulate the need for being insured,” Johnson said. “They won’t do business with me just because I’m black. But we tend to see life through a similar lens. Race is a factor. But a strong black Cobb makes a strong Cobb County and will help to further develop the business community overall.”
According to the 2010 U.S. Census report, 25 percent of Cobb County residents — or 177,020 out of 688,078 total residents — are African-American. And of the 77,967 business firms listed in the county in 2007, nearly 19 percent, or 14,501 of those, were African American–owned.
Robertson said the initiative is part of a 15-month campaign, which will also involve social networking and mobile applications. Robertson said he will also host four quarterly mixers once the website is launched Saturday, which will act as networking opportunities for African-American business owners in Cobb and feature guest speakers who can provide them with business guidance and advice.
Stephanie Thornton, a CPA and owner of Thornton Consultants out of Powder Springs, said the directory will create an identity for the African-American Cobb business community — one that she said is very much needed right now.
“It is very important to feel like you have things of your own, and can give back to the community and feel a sense of kinship,” Thornton said. “I’ve signed up for it, and my fiancé owns a barber shop and he has also signed up for it. I think it will be very well used. It’s not about trying to separate, but rather build a sense of community and help each other out.”
Robertson said the costs of joining the directory — which range from $100 to $700 per business, depending on the type of listing and amount of visibility — will be used to simply maintain the website, and a portion of the proceeds will also be donated to local African-American churches.
Beginning tomorrow, those interested in the program can visit www.blackcobbpages.com or call (404) 909-8161 for more information.