UWA hosts interagency economic development forum

Published 10:21 am Monday, September 9, 2013

LIVINGSTON — The University of West Alabama recently welcomed some 40 participants at an interagency rural community and economic development forum. The event offered an interactive discussion on how local stakeholders can strengthen the local economic development system.

The free admission forum was designed to bring together local small business bankers, chambers of commerce, elected officials, financial intermediaries, small business technical assistance providers, economic development agencies and other small business stakeholders from across the region.

The event served as an opportunity for representatives from a host of organizations and businesses to communicate their innovative and flexible sources of capital available to increase the area’s small business knowledge of available products and services.

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Event organizer Donald Mills, director of the Small Business Development Center on the UWA campus said that a primary goal in hosting the event was to go beyond recognizing the obstacles and barriers that many small business owners and economic development forces face and to determine solutions for helping get past those barriers.

Mills explained that this unique partnership with Federal Reserve Bank and the FDIC promotes collaboration and synergy. “The stakeholders represented engage in strengthening the Black Belt’s economic system through efforts like this one,” Mills said.

UWA President Richard Holland spoke to attendees, thanking them for their willingness to support the University in its own efforts to promote economic development throughout the Black Belt.

The majority of the participants at the forum, using clicker technology to interact and complete polls, suggested that there is plenty of capital and other resources available to area entrepreneurs, but most people are not aware of their options for seeking the assistance they need.

This type of event is the remedy to that concern. Connecting bankers, assistance providers, economic development agencies and other stakeholders broadens the network of available resources and allows those within the network to refer clients to more appropriate outlets if their own services do not fit the individual client’s needs.

For instance, a local entrepreneur may have aspirations of starting a small business, but has limited resources and funding. By reaching out to any member of the economic development system in the region, that entrepreneur is more likely to find the assistance that is most fitting for his or her venture.

Entities like UWA’s SBDC can provide assistance in formalizing a business plan that is necessary before the entrepreneur seeks funding. They can also point business owners in the best direction for the amount or type of funding that is needed.

Following the forum, participants agreed to follow up with others in attendance and to work to strengthen west Alabama’s economic development network with the resources and information gained at the forum.