Entrepreneurs create new jobs for North Carolina

University Relations & Marketing
May 06, 2008

Move over Steve Jobs and Warren Buffett - the young entrepreneurs from Elizabeth City State University are coming. A new concentration within ECSU's Walter R. Davis School of Business and Economics is grooming students to become the next generation of business leaders owning their own companies. Dr. Freda H. McBride, dean of the business school, said the new focus will prepare students to identify the needs within a community and then create a business to fill those demands. The goal, too, is to stop the brain drain within ECSU's 21-county service area of northeastern North Carolina, while creating employment options for ESCU students and building communities. "What we're finding is that our top graduates are leaving the area," said Dr. McBride. "They have no choice because there's nothing here for them. Consequently, the area can't improve if the best and brightest leave," she continued. "We feel the only way to keep them is to teach them how to create their own jobs." The Entrepreneurship program, as it is planned, would be a boost to both the students and to the region. Nearly half of the counties in the region around ECSU are considered "economically distressed" by the North Carolina Department of Commerce, making them eligible to offer a variety of incentives to attract new business and to expand existing ones. While small businesses are the backbone of North Carolina's economy - 98 percent of all companies with employees in the state are classified as small firms with fewer than 500 employees - the ranks of North Carolina's self-employed have swelled in recent years, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Self employment grew by 5 percent, from 419,654 in 2004 to 440,755 in 2005, according to the federal data. Figures from the North Carolina Employment Security Commission show that businesses with fewer than 50 employees account for 95 percent of the firms in rural North Carolina, generating 564,532 employees in 2003. "Our commitment is to develop students to be capable of a successful business start-up," said Dr. Hilton Barrett, chairman of the business school's Department of Management and Marketing. Only now in its infancy, the Entrepreneurship program started in Fall 2007 as a sixth area of concentration for students working toward a bachelor's degree in business administration. Students who already have taken the basics required of all business school students can delve into the four courses that make up the Entrepreneurship concentration - High-Tech Businesses; Franchise Selection, Training, Financing and Operations; Entrepreneurial Strategy; and Entrepreneurial Finance. They will learn about market research, financing, cash flow, management teams, franchises, royalties and fees and business strategy and will actually put together and present a business plan. "By taking these courses, students are going to improve the odds that they will be a success when they do try entrepreneurship," Dr. Barrett said. The finance class will be taught by a finance professor within the business school, while the entrepreneurship track will be taught by Dr. Frank Gaskill, who has corporate experience and small business expertise. Dr. Barrett sees the program as something that will attract students, many of whom already have set up their own informal businesses around campus selling T-shirts, producing parties and events and selling food from grills set up around the dorms. "I've seen many students with the personality and drive to run their own business," Dr. Barrett said. Currently, about six students are enrolled in each of the classes, Dr. McBride said. But those numbers are expected to balloon as the school does its job marketing the new product. Students who are non-business majors can minor in Entrepreneurship beginning in Fall 2008, she said. Plans call for collaborating with the University of North Carolina Small Business and Technology Development Center, located in the K.E. White Graduate Center on campus, and the College of the Albemarle and other area community colleges to create workshops for the community and internships for students. Dr. McBride envisions students in the Entrepreneurship program creating business plans and conducting market research and feasibility studies for companies in the region. "To actually see their work materialize into something would mean something more than a grade," she said. The new focus was born from the convergent desires of three sectors, Dr. Barrett said. Students clamored for more entrepreneurship-oriented courses; helping to develop the region's economic sector became a new direction for ECSU under Chancellor Willie J. Gilchrist; and the UNC system's thrust emphasized entrepreneurship under its UNC Tomorrow initiative, he said. "Entrepreneurship is a healthy way to expand the economy, create jobs and have wealth creation," Dr. Barrett said. "So this adds to the standard of living and the quality of life for a region. We want very much to enhance the standard of living and quality of life for northeast North Carolina." Dr. Barrett, 62, lived more than two decades of entrepreneurial experience before entering the academic world. He began his professional career as a pharmacist, opening a small pharmacy with two others in Eastern North Carolina. He returned to school for a master's in business administration and then headed to the corporate world. There, he was director of ventures for a division of VF Corp., a Fortune 500 company that manufacturers apparel, including Wrangler, Lee, Nautica and The North Face. Dr. Barrett worked with the company's Red Kap line of industrial work clothes. He returned to the area in 2002. He said the current slowdown in the economy might propel students to think about starting their own businesses, particularly if jobs aren't readily available. "We're trying to find areas where we can be out in the forefront," said Dr. McBride. "We want to have programs that will attract students and give them options for life. Entrepreneurship can do that," she continued. "If you know how to make your own job, you can go anywhere you want and do what you want to do." Article written by Bonnie Winston, a freelance writer for University Relations & Marketing