‘A fantastic opportunity’

Bevill State Community College has announced a new entrepreneur program that has brought city business leaders together to encourage job growth and community investment. The new program, described as an entrepreneur training course, will provide an opportunity for 20 individuals this fall to understand the entrepreneurial mind-set and learn valuable business skills to start their own business. Investors in the program candidly spoke last week about how the idea for an entrepreneur educational course was conceptualized and the impact it could have for the City of Jasper and Walker County. “The idea came with Jasper Main Street,” said First Bank of Jasper’s Brent McCarver, a member of the Jasper Main Street Board of Directors. “The Economic Vitality Committee of Jasper Main Street has a goal of developing entrepreneurs and start up businesses, specifically for downtown, but we’re trying to broaden out to Jasper as a whole. We started so many different angles. Bevill was working over here on so many angles, and as we had meetings, everybody sort of synergized together in this program.” Bevill State Dean of Instruction Dr. Leslie Cummings added, “The process began when we started talking to local business and industry and Linda Lewis from the Chamber of Commerce of Walker County. We talked about the area needing an option for individuals who want to do business management or they may want to begin their own business. “With the collaboration of our business and industry partners, we created a credit-bearing program that is a management and entrepreneurship associate in applied science degree, but we also knew that there were some people who just want to come back for short-term training, so we’re also offering a non-credit type training that would be for management and entrepreneurship.” The entrepreneur program will be held at the college’s new Rapid Response Training Center on Industrial Drive in Jasper, and will involve a two-phase approach. During the first phase, beginning Sept. 5, students will meet each Tuesday to focus on the “Who Owns The Ice House?” curriculum, inspired by entrepreneur Clifton Taulbert’s popular book on learning entrepreneurial skills. “Part of the Ice House curriculum is that it teaches you to look for ideas within your community,” said Amanda Clement Tice, workforce solutions specialist for Bevill State. “The gentleman that’s at the core of the book, he was really good at looking around his community, seeing a need that he could personally find a way to fulfill and taking advantage of that. “If [students] come to the table with an idea, great, we can work through that, but if they don’t have one, it’s going to teach them to look around ... and find something they can do.” The second phase of the program will be held early next year to teach valuable business skills. At the end of the program, students will present their business plan to a panel of area business men and women who will invest in one or more business models with the greatest potential. Paul Kennedy, president of the Walker Area Community Foundation, said he has heard area leaders express the need for such a program for a number of years, but movement toward an entrepreneur program didn’t gain traction until more recently. Kennedy said, “For me, it started about a year ago with Dr. Larry Ferguson (the former president of Bevill State) and Sen. Greg Reed, looking at an opportunity for funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), and that was to try and reinvigorate and to replace some of the jobs that have been lost in the coal economy. “What came out of those discussions early on was what they had been hearing from all of these folks, ‘We need an entrepreneurial program. We need some kind of a formal training and mentoring program to help them get started ... and to come in with a real good plan and create homegrown jobs that aren’t going to be exported anywhere else.’” Bevill State received a grant from ARC earlier this year to develop the college’s Rapid Response Training Center, which will provide cutting edge training in response to industry needs. It is where classes for the entrepreneur program will be held. “We’ll be able to talk with business and industry,” Cummings said. “If they have a need, we can put together a quick class, two day-training. We can be a rapid response to whatever their need is.”

Carlos Pedraza of Los Reyes Grill in downtown Jasper said he is happy to be a partner in the program to help men and women who want to start their own business but need proper training for their idea to be a successful business model. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for new entrepreneurs trying to invest in the city,” Pedraza said. “I think this is going to build the basis for a great program. It can only go forward.” “This is going to provide an opportunity for individuals who may have some great idea to start up a business,” Bevill State President Dr. Kim Ennis said. “This will support them and give them an opportunity to reach their goals and maybe create their own small business that, who knows, could become a huge business some day.” Lisa Killingsworth of First Bank of Jasper and treasurer of the Jasper Main Street Board of Directors said the concept is all about sustainability. “I really love the idea that everyone is coming together with Bevill State, Main Street and the city, as well as the four financial institutions that will be involved in this,” she said. Each phase of the program will last eight weeks at a cost of $100 per phase. Area entrepreneurs interested in supporting the program may call Tana Collins, director of public relations for Bevill State, at (205) 648-3271, ext. 5742. They may also reach her by email at tana.collins@bscc.edu. Anyone who wants to register for the program may contact Amanda Clement Tice at amanda.tice@bscc.edu. People may also enroll in the program at Bevill State’s Jasper or Sumiton business offices. The deadline to register is Aug. 18. Clement Tice said there will be a credit and non-credit version of the program, and two instructors, who are entrepreneurs themselves, will lead phase one of the program. She said the program is open to anyone, but the potential business owner that receives start up capital at the end of the program is expected to open their business in Walker County. “A lot of people have good ideas, but we’re looking for someone who has the good idea but wants to commit the time and effort to learn how to become a successful entrepreneur,” she said. “That’s the candidate we’re looking for, someone who is willing to sit and listen and learn, and interact with the experts that we’re providing, because I think that is one of the most critical components.” She said Bevill State hopes to eventually expand the program to the college’s Fayette and Hamilton campuses. Partners providing financial support for the program include the City of Jasper, First Bank of Jasper, Bank of Walker County, Security Federal Bank, Pinnacle Bank, Jasper Main Street’s Economic Vitality Committee and Los Reyes Grill. Other business owners have expressed interest in supporting the program as well. Jasper Mayor David O’Mary said he looks forward to seeing the results of the program and what it could mean for the future of Jasper’s economic success. “I know that getting into business is tough, staying in business is challenging, and what we know across this country is that small businesses provide more jobs than large businesses by a wide margin,” said O’Mary, who is a retired banker. “With jobs comes sales tax revenue that funds our cities, which in turn funds our school systems and quality of life and those sort of things. “I really believe that we’ll see good things come from this program. I would hope that this community will come together and thank Bevill State for the vision and, secondly, that they’re willing to provide the essentials to make this program a reality.”