Columbus — Thanks to a $1-million, congressionally-directed grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Mississippi University for Women (MUW) will establish an economic development resource center designed to facilitate, support and help advance entrepreneurship, especially for women, in Northeast Mississippi.
U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) was instrumental in helping MUW obtain the grant to fund The Women’s Center for Entrepreneurship at MUW, which will assist individuals — particularly women — with educational resources to help start, develop, manage and grow their own businesses and will make referrals for additional resources provided by other economic development agencies.
“This initiative will further the impressive economic development taking place in the Golden Triangle, and we look forward to working with the economic leaders in this area,” said Claudia A. Limbert, the president of MUW.
Joyce Hunt, Ed.D., MUW emerita professor of management, who developed the technical portion of the grant proposal, said to maximize the center’s outreach to women, input was secured from members of The LINK (Lowndes County’s economic development organization), the director of the North Mississippi Contract Procurement Center, MUW faculty and successful women business owners.
Hunt said it was fitting that MUW, the first state-chartered and state-supported school for women’s higher education in the U.S., would implement a center “dedicated to successfully moving women forward into business ownership and development.”
“Not only does MUW have a long tradition of excellence in liberal arts and professional education, its mission has continued to include a commitment to academic and leadership development for women,” she pointed out.
The concept of the Women’s Center for Entrepreneurship came from goal-setting sessions centered on the university’s W-2009 Strategic Plan.
“MUW forms partnerships with businesses as well as with educational, governmental, public service and charitable organizations to create opportunities that provide economic and social advantages for the institution, community and region,” explained Hunt. “This principle is formalized in Goal 10 of the university’s … strategic plan, which is to build partnerships and public awareness to support the university’s mission and to promote institutional and economic development. The establishment of the Women’s Center for Entrepreneurship at MUW will provide a vehicle for economic outreach and development designed to meet the needs of prospective and current entrepreneurs, especially women.”
Major goals for the center include:
• Establishing and providing an educational resource center for individuals, especially women, who want to become more knowledgeable about business ownership.
• Assessing the needs of and the opportunities for women entrepreneurs in the region.
• Developing diversified services, programs and activities that will assist women in starting, developing and growing businesses.
• Forming partnerships with other economic development groups in the region and with the MUW College of Business, Southern Women’s Institute and MUW student groups.
“Diversified offerings of services, programs and activities will be provided to assist individuals who want to start, develop, manage or grow their own businesses,” said Hunt. “Counseling services by the center’s director, consultants and mentors will be provided. To avoid unnecessary duplication of major services, referrals will be made to existing economic development organizations such as the Small Business Development Center at Mississippi State University and the North Mississippi Contract Procurement Center.”
Each month, the center will provide different programming venues. Two regional conferences, a visiting lecture series focusing on leadership, nine workshops/seminars/roundtable discussions and seven “Lunch and Learn” programs will be offered during the two years of the grant.
Environment for small business
According to 2002 U.S. Census Bureau reports, women are increasing their business ownership at a much higher rate than the national average. In the U.S., Mississippi ranks 47th in women’s business ownership with a rate of 22.8%, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in 2004. The CREATE Foundation in Tupelo reports that nearly one in four Mississippi families are single-parent, female-headed households, and that women in Mississippi are 50% more likely to live in poverty than men. Women comprise 52% of the state’s population.
“The strong economic development activities that are occurring in Northeast Mississippi — SeverCorr, American Eurocopter, Talley Defense, Baldor Electric’s expansion — create and promote an environment of small business development and growth,” said Hunt. “In addition, four counties in this region — Lowndes, Oktibbeha, Monroe and Lee — are listed by the U.S. Census Bureau as having a significant number of women-owned businesses. For these women, the center can provide assistance to enhance their management skills and enable them to strengthen and grow their businesses.”
Adjacent to Lowndes County, Noxubee County had the highest unemployment rate in the state for May. “The Women’s Center could assist women in this area to start or strengthen their businesses and thus help strengthen the economy of the entire region,” said Hunt.
The center will be housed in Reneau Hall, where the College of Business is located, and will be staffed primarily by four professionals — two full-time, one half-time and one part-time. The center’s director will report to the MUW Provost. In addition, consultants with specialized expertise required for programming and counseling will be contracted for workshops, seminars and counseling. Business mentors, similar to SCORE, will be sought to provide one-on-one counseling and develop long-term relationships with clients. Successful business owners will share their experiences in establishing and managing a business with clients, community members, MUW faculty and students. MUW faculty, College of Business interns and other MUW students will assist the center’s staff. By mid-July, MUW had received 13 applications for director of the new center, said Hunt.
The projected period of operation for the grant funding is two years, beginning September 1. The grant timeline calls for the center’s development, hiring of personnel, planning of services and promotion during the fall semester and collaborating with other universities with similar programs, such as E-Magnify at Seton Hill, The Center for Women Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship Education at Metropolitan State University, The Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Chatham College and Babson College Center for Women’s Leadership.
“The center is expected to open officially to serve clients in January 2007, when the university returns from Christmas holidays,” said Hunt.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.