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Friday, March 2, 2012

E-SUMMIT: Thomas Center’s growing network on display at UNCP

The theme of “Growth and Sustainability” was fitting for the fourth annual Entrepreneurship Summit at UNC Pembroke.

North Carolina Treasurer Janet Cowell

North Carolina Treasurer Janet Cowell

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The E-Summit is sponsored by the Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship, whose growing network in the region was on display. The five-year-old center supports academic programs in entrepreneurship at UNCP and consults with new and small businesses in the community.

More than 120 people attended the February 23 event at the university’s Regional Center for Economic, Community and Professional Development in COMtech.

Keynote speaker North Carolina Treasurer Janet Cowell was making her second appearance at a Thomas Center event. “We have been touring North Carolina to talk about the Innovation Fund,” the treasurer said. “We came to Pembroke in 2010 to talk about it because you have such a great entrepreneurship center.”

The $232 million fund has already committed $120 million to finance growing and diverse businesses across North Carolina, Cowell explained. The fund was started to provide much-needed capital funding and jobs following the recession.

“Anybody in elected office is focused on jobs,” Cowell said. “We have a long way to go and our theme is ‘Keep Calm and Carry On.’”

Cowell, who has filed for re-election, said that this a critical time for her office and the state. Besides investing the state’s $8 billion pension fund, the treasurer’s office recently took on management of the state’s health insurance plan.

Aaron Thomas, president of Metcon Construction, headquartered in Pembroke discussed sustainable construction

Aaron Thomas, president of Metcon Construction, headquartered in Pembroke discussed sustainable construction

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“The state health plan affects the state’s bond rating, the state budget and human lives,” she said. “We will be looking for efficiencies in what has been an irrationally designed system.”
           
In his welcoming remarks, UNCP’s Chancellor Kyle R. Carter had important news about the Thomas Center. Dr. Carter is raising funds to convert a Pembroke storefront into a home for the center, the Small Business and Technology Development Center, an entrepreneurship incubator and more.

“Promoting small and growing businesses in our region is a vital part of our mission,” Chancellor Carter said. “The purpose of the Downtown Development Project is to bring the community closer to the university and to give the university a presence in downtown Pembroke.”

Like the state treasurer, nearly every person in the room – entrepreneurs, students and faculty alike – had a connection to the Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship. Three featured speakers discussed the growth and sustainability of their businesses.

Mark Scott is a partner in the Aberdeen manufacturing company Thermal Metal Treating, which employs 24 people. When the metalworking company bought the Longleaf Collection, which makes upscale hardware for doors, they turned to UNCP for marketing assistance.

“When we bought the hardware company, we also bought 500 customers,” Scott said. “At this phase, we were fortunate enough to get the assistance of the Thomas Family Center and (its director) Dr. Carmen Calabrese. A group of (UNCP) MBA students gave us a market analysis that we use to grow and market our product today.”

Heidi Dent is co-CEO of Hirease, a 20-year-old service company that provides background information to companies about prospective employees. She earned an MBA from UNCP.

Aaron Thomas, a 2001 UNCP graduate, founded Metcon Construction in Pembroke and has built several signature UNCP buildings. The company, which he founded at age 24, was recently named National Minority Construction Company of the Year by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Metcon is a LEED certified contractor and discussed his recent project to build North Carolina’s first “net zero” school.

Participating in the summit were the owners of both new and established businesses. Thomas Maynor M.D., vice president of operations for Robeson Healthcare, and Mary Thomas-Locklear, the company’s vice president of human resources, led a small contingent to the E-Summit. The Thomas Center recently began consulting on a marketing plan with the nonprofit health care provider.

Chuck Barnes and his wife, Beverly Bizzell, owners of Renaissance Tile and Stone in Aberdeen, attended last year’s summit and returned this year for more guidance. “I’m looking for any bit of information that can help,” he said. “It’s good to get some fresh ideas.”

The summit also attracted prospective entrepreneurs.  Dorothy Tyson, a retired educator from Laurinburg and 1981 UNCP graduate, heard about the summit from its ad in the newspaper. She attended the summit because she is thinking of starting a bakery.

MBA candidate Owen Thomas also attended. He was one of the first students to complete UNCP’s certificate program in entrepreneurship, directed by Thomas Family Center Distinguished Professor Dr. Mike Menefee. Even though he’s still in school, Thomas said he is interested in starting his own business.

Nick Arena, a member of UNCP’s business faculty, came to the summit to judge a student competition and because he volunteers Moore County’s Service Corps Of Retired Executives program, a non-profit small business assistance program. He wants to start a SCORE chapter in Robeson County.

“There were some excellent presentations today,” Arena said. “It was a good conference.”

For more information about the Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship, call 910.775.4208 or email tfce@uncp.edu.

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