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COVID-19 Brings AAMU's Business Support to Forefront

Orok and Dean Smith
April 17, 2020

COBPA, CEIED Reignite Small Business Support

Enter one pandemic and, within a single month—the span of many payrolls—it is readily confirmed that not only are millions of individuals living paycheck-to-paycheck, but so, too, are many of the businesses that employ them. 

As the often-deadly COVID-19 virus has mandated social distancing and the outright closure of many Tennessee Valley businesses, large venues, as well as operations dependent on close contact with other human beings, several small businesses throughout Huntsville and beyond have been forced to reckon with the consequences of having almost zero revenue coming in.

While innovation abounds, to say that small businesses are panicking would be, indeed, an understatement.  To say that there is help for them and that that help has always been there would be, well, just fact.  For more than a decade, Alabama A&M University’s Center for Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Economic Development (CEIED) has been the catalyst for relationships joining small businesses, local chambers, cities, contractors, investors, community organizations and academia.

Operating under the auspices of the College of Business and Public Affairs (COBPA), CEIED is directed by Dr. Teresa Orok, who also heads the AAMU Small Business Development Center.  Simply, Orok works to increase the success rates of small businesses within her service sector, as well as to boost profitability, provide feasibility studies, and offer a smoother transfer of technology.

“Since the onset of COVID-19 in our community, CEIED and COBPA have supported over 700 small businesses, faith-based organizations, non-profits, banks and financial institutions across Alabama,” stated Orok.  “My schedule has been non-stop supporting the diverse economic ecosystems from dusk to dawn each day.” 

For instance, she has held two sessions with the Jefferson County Alabama SBA District Office, over 250 small businesses, faith-based organizations, nonprofits and state-elected and appointed officials.

Moreover, Dr. Orok recently participated in a webinar sponsored by the Mobile (Ala.) Senate and House Democratic Legislative Delegation designed to provide information to small businesses that would help them recover economically during the period of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The event was jointly sponsored by Alabama State Senator Vivian Davis-Figures and Representatives Barbara Drummond, Napoleon Bracy, Adline Clarke and Sam Jones.  Orok was joined by representatives from the Alabama Bankers Association and the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Dr. Del Smith is dean of the AACSB-accredited business college at AAMU.  In a dual role as executive director for economic development since 2017, Smith has been making inroads in the development of AAMU as an economic player in the thriving North Alabama region.  Toward that end, COBPA issued a well-promoted white paper in January 2019 calling for the state’s education system to adequately prepare workers for automobile jobs of the future.  Respectfully received, the report’s impact continued to ripple through trade magazines well into the late spring. 

One short year later, Smith was providing an overview on an 11-acre development project that could include hotels, retail shops and food establishments to complement a multi-functional event center in AAMU’s southwestern quadrant.  He was recently selected to chair the economic development committee of Alabama United, a group of African-American leaders convened by the Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs.  With a final draft deadline of June 6 fast approaching, the committee is charged with presenting the Governor with recommendations and strategies to achieve economic development parity in Alabama.

Thus, in coordination with CEIED, Smith works feverishly to form strategic initiatives, to cultivate relationships, and to convene the regional stakeholders best able to accelerate business development.  He also plays an integral role in promoting business incubation; stimulating commercialization of intellectual property and technology; and even aligning university graduates with local and global workforce demands.

Despite its hectic schedule, CEIED coordinates a free, now-virtual seminar series for small businesses with the Chamber of Commerce that highlights topics ranging from accounting strategies and supply chain management to employee motivation and cybersecurity. 

On a continuing basis, Orok provides support to the Huntsville business and non-profit community, with the Alabama SBA District Office, over 200 small businesses, faith-based organizations and nonprofits in support of State Representatives Laura Hall and Anthony Daniels and the State of Alabama economic development agenda. 

Both Smith and Orok will remain engaged in addressing the many concerns of small businesses and select organizations as related to the CARES Act.

                                                                                                                                      -Jerome Saintjones