A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

NewsMaker 2020: Brent Cooper’s magic touch — advocating for regionalism and business community

By Judy Clabes
NKyTribune editor

You might be forgiven for thinking that Brent Cooper is a bit of a wizard. Look it up in your Merriam-Webster; even the adjectives apply. Otherwise, how could he humanly just be every where all the time?

If there’s a ribbon to cut, a happy hour to enjoy, a sports team to cheer on, a meeting to attend, a conference to lead, a success to celebrate, a good community cause to support, a project to champion, a new idea to pursue, a cheer to be cheered, a back to be patted – look, there he is. Wearing his optimism in the smile on his face.

There just must be magic involved.

Brent Cooper has been president and CEO of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce since 2017 but he’s been part of the organization for much longer, having been an active member and board chair and having served twice in interim president roles between two other presidents.

A graduate of the University of Kentucky, Cooper started his own business at 29, C-Forward (the C is for Computer and not Cooper), providing ‘Big Business’ IT solutions to small businesses in the region. He grew the business with his “can do” attitude and attention to customers. While there might have been a little magic in it, there was also quality work that drove dramatic growth and earned plenty of awards, including the Chamber’s Small Business Success Award in 2003.

He is still a small businessman, though he has turned over day-to-day operations of C-Forward to his management team while he goes about the business of running and growing the Chamber.

“I have always believed in this Chamber,” Cooper has said. “The Chamber helped me grow my business and helped me grow as a leader.”

For his enthusiastic championship of the NKY region and his inexhaustible support of the regional perspective and the broad interests of the business community, Cooper is a winner of the NKyTribune’s NewsMaker 2020 award.

Of course, he’s a fan — and of UK , Norse and TMU basketball too.

Cooper is a graduate of Leadership NKY (2005) and Leadership Cincinnati (2016) and has served or serves on a number of boards including the Gateway Community & Technical College Foujdation, Kentucky State Chamber Board, Baptist Health Board, Northern Kentucky University Foundation Board, Northern Kentucky Convention Center Board, and Strive Partnership Board.

He has chaired the Northern Kentucky Workforce Investment Board (2007-2009) and has received a number of awards over the years including the Covington Education Foundation’s “Person of the Year” (2017), Kentucky Board of Education’s Joseph Kelly Award (2016), Children, Inc.’s “Charity in Action” Award (2015), 4C’s Champion for Children Award (2014), the Northern Kentucky Chamber’s Unity Award (2014), the Boy Scouts Trailblazer Award (2013), the Kenton County Library Mary Ann Mongan Award (2012) and the Northern Kentucky Area Development District’s Community Leadership Award (2005). In 2006 he was named one of the “Forty Under 40” award by the Cincinnati Business Courier.

As he looks back at the past year – the Chamber celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2019 – he remembers a nearly euphoric start to 2020, until the pandemic hit full force. After that, everybody started with a new slate, and Cooper’s natural optimism kicked into ferocious advocacy.

“2020 just keeps on giving,” he says. “And I’m glad I could be here to help. I believe we have made and continue to make a difference.”

With daughters Emma and Sydney

Because he is a small businessman, he could understand what small businesses are going through and could lend a sympathetic and understanding ear to those business owners wondering “how are we going to be here tomorrow.”

The Chamber played a critical role behind the scenes in working for businesses with state and national leaders and funders, in providing free programs and services to both members and nonmembers, in starting the restaurant relief fund, in securing both loans and grants for businesses, in advocating for unemployment insurance, the bridge, early childhood education and child care, in recognizing teachers and outstanding women, in aiming for sustainability and stability, in encouraging voting and citizen engagement . . .and more.

“It’s been the most difficult thing ever,” he says of the pandemic, “but I’m proud to be part of this caring community, looking for solutions and working together.”

He credits the dedicated Chamber staff and his two daughters, Sydney and Emma, for keeping him grounded and inspired. Work and family, he says, are the most important parts of his life.

“My personal happiness is tied to the work,” he says – and his daughters just make everything better.

Therein lies the real magic.

NewsMaker 2020

Click image to go to auction site: Bid on items, buy virtual tickets.

The NKyTribune’s “NewsMaker 2020” awards program has gone virtual this year, due to the pandemic. This week we will be celebrating our five award winners with a feature story a day honoring their success. Coming are: Robert Hoffer of DBL Law and St. Elizabeth Foundation, Ashish Vaidya of Northern Kentucky University, and Alecia Webb-Edgington of Life Learning Center. See NewsMaker Catrena Bowman-Thomas’s story here.

This annual fundraiser for the nonprofit NKyTribune depends on sponsorships, virtual ticket sales and a silent auction. If you want to join the sponsors below, email judy@nkytrib.com or call 513 324 4178. You can buy virtual tickets and bid on auction items here.

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