University’s local economic impact discussed at Booker T. Washington summit


  Summit attendees listen to a presenter in a
session about financing small businesses.
TUSKEGEE, Ala. (September 15, 2011)  — Tuskegee University’s Cooperative Extension program is hosting its 16th Booker T. Washington Economic Development Summit through Friday at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center. The conference is designed to promote economic development through private enterprise with emphasis on procurement opportunities for business owners, contractors, community-based organizations, small business development programs and Historically Black Colleges and Universities involved with community development.

Today, Tuskegee President Gilbert L. Rochon welcomed participants during the opening plenary session. Highlighting local change and economic development, Rochon used examples from Macon County’s and the university’s past to illustrate the progress made academically, socially and economically.

“In 1861, the population of Macon County was 8,000 white citizens. There were 18,000 black slaves and one free black.” Rochon said. “We have come a mighty long way.”

The conference’s theme is “Revitalizing Small Towns and Rural Communities through Entrepreneurship and Procurement Opportunities.” Topics covered this year include broadband Internet in the rural South, small business innovation research, procurement opportunities, small business financing and public policy.

Rochon talked about several research and technology projects the university will be involved in that will help the local economy and residents. Rochon said the university has been designated as a hub to connect Huntsville to Mobile in the Alabama Broadband Initiative.  As a result, residents will have access to broadband Internet and the capability for distance learning. Also, the university plans to collaborate with the city of Tuskegee to establish a research park to encourage businesses and researchers to work in the city and help provide internships for students and jobs for residents.

“We have to be more than one of the largest employers in town,” Rochon said. “We have to be a partner, a neighbor and a transformative entity with respect to the sustainability of the community as well.”

Louis Maxwell, chair of the Macon County Commission, explained the university’s role as a catalyst for economic change in the lives of residents. Maxwell told the story of meeting an unemployed man who was upset that he was not able to provide for his children. A month later, Maxwell said the man visited him again and reported that he was now employed and working on the recent renovations at the university’s Marable Apartments.

“This community will develop. There will be other jobs. Thanks to Tuskegee University,” he said.

The session’s keynote speaker spoke on the challenges facing workers and businesses in America’s flagging economy.  Keivan Deravi, professor of economics at Auburn University at Montgomery explained that the economic practices of the past are no longer effective and jobs are not being added at a rate that can keep up with job losses. Therefore, businesses are becoming more global and relying more on technology to cut employment costs. He urged versatility and adopting innovative business models to thrive in this economy and survive the push to globalization.

“This too shall pass,” Deravi said. “Our biggest asset is our civility, our ability to adjust and re-apply. That will come to the rescue in this madness.”

Tuskegee University President Gilbert L. Rochon speaks to the audience at the opening plenary of the 16th Booker T. Washington Economic Summit. Seated is keynote speaker Keivan Deravi, an economics professor at Auburn University at Montgomery.







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