Already James Boggus, the Pittsburgh area director of the Chocolate Blues and Business Networking Festival is recommending next steps and planning for his 2013 event. “Follow-up is the key component for everyone at this point,” he said. Looking forward to a spring 2013 Chocolate Blues and Business Networking Festival, he is positive that it will be just as eventful and rewarding as the one he hosted at the Kingsley Association in November.

CHOCOLATE ANYONE?—Rhonda Rector Rankin, owner of Creamy Creations based in Penn Hills, shares a moment with James Boggus, the Pittsburgh area director of the Chocolate Blues and Business Networking Festival. (Photo by Diane I. Daniels)

Held in 52 other cities, Boggus says the purpose of Chocolate Blues is to bring decision makers together in a fun and productive environment. “Our goal is to grow and develop professional networks and to connect attendees with hundreds of like-minded experts in one day,” he said. He also pointed out that it is a nationwide experience providing a festive, educational and informative atmosphere where you get to eat a lot of chocolate. In most cities along with the networking, seminars, roundtable discussions and coaching sessions the opportunity for local jazz artists to perform is a part of the day’s activities.

A Pittsburgh native residing in Dallas, Boggus said bringing this event to Pittsburgh is his way of giving back, paying it forward so to speak.

“I had attended several Chocolate Blues events and got a lot out of them,” he said. “I felt this would be a way to reach out to businesses in my hometown and help them to expand their networks to a bigger audience. When I was in the planning stage people were real receptive and helpful.”

With close to 200 people flowing through the event and a mix of local and national vendors, Boggus labeled his first Chocolate Blues venture a success.

“Pittsburgh is a great city to bring this event to. Businesses like Onyx Women’s Network, Positively Pittsburgh Live and Minuteman Press have been very open and helpful,” he said. “Even larger businesses and non-profits like State Farm Insurance, the Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball Club, Pittsburgh Social Exchange, WGBN Radio, Small Seeds Development, Costco’s, Point Park University and Sam’s Club played a significant role. When like-minded professionals and business owners come together, wonderful things begin to happen. Helping companies and business owners hook up with potential clients and creating referral partners to grow their marketplace was the goal of this event and I believe we achieved it.”

As a national organization, Boggus indicated that the group has a lot to offer local entrepreneurs. “We have quality, solid business connections, a solid social media presence and a national magazine called ‘Be the Boss,’” he said.

The Chocolate Blues and Networking Festival was founded by Shelly Rice, based in California, nine years ago with the goal to provide an interactive outlet for hundreds of business owners and professionals. Since then she totes that the event is one of the largest, most successful and most fun networking events in the country. According to Boggus the goal is usually to draw 500 to 800 participants. With at least 20 team members, the aim of the group is continuous recruitment of team members and to host the event in at least 200 cities. Other than attendees and vendors, opportunities are available for local and national sponsorships, ambassadors, and businesses to conduct roundtable discussions, workshops and coaching circles.

“Being the director of a Chocolate Networking event is like owning a franchise,” said Boggus. “You pay a small fee and receive support in organizing your events. You have access to a tremendous network.”

A graduate of the former Peabody High School, Boggus attended Community College of Allegheny County. In Dallas for more than 20 years his full time profession is serving as a certified vacation benefit consultant. “I strive to help businesses increase productivity and reduce their health-care cost. Businesses can demonstrate their commitment to providing exemplary work-life balance to existing and prospective employees by offering this unique employee benefit,” he said. In most cases, businesses can experience up to 700 percent return on their investment, he said.

“Outside of Chocolate Blues I’m a business connector on various levels, it’s my passion,” he said. He pointed out that he is always looking for people of integrity and influence to help deliver the programs he is involved with to the community. “Together we can help families, companies, and our societies regain the strength that makes a good nation great,” he said.

Aiming to make his spring Chocolate Blues Networking Festival bigger and more successful than the 2012 event, Boggus said he has been communicating with past vendors and potential sponsors. Directors in other cities are also planning their 2013 festivals. Already Bowling Green, Kentucky, aswell as Richardson and Kingwood/Humble, Texas have set dates. “That is a powerful asset about this organization,the network is strong,” said Boggus. “Entrepreneurs and professionals from anywhere are invited to participate through networking, vending or sponsorship in any city. The key is to make the experience work for you by following up with the connections you make and having a plan of action.”

To participate in any Chocolate Blues and Jazz Festival Boggus says that it is best to visit the website at or to call 469-387-8151.

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