Entrepreneurship, Small Business Today’s Economy Drivers

Bell Tower Magazine | Business and Industry | BT streamOctober 20, 2022

Entrepreneurship, Small Business Today’s economic drivers

It’s a mouthful, but the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center, which partners with the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, has already made an impact on the local economy.

“The economic impact of ASBTDC in the River Valley for all of 2021 was approximately $1.3 million,” said Bill Sabo, the center’s regional director. “It’s been $6.4 million so far this year (August 2022) and I think there will be a few more to come by the end of the year.”

Funded by the US Small Business Administration, ASBTDC works with small businesses from inception to reinvention and everything in between.

“One misconception is that we only work on startups. We work with every conceivable company. You might have a dream you want to explore, or you want to add a second location, or you need capital to add new machines. we will work with you,” said Sabo.

In early 2021, UAFS announced it had received a $78,000 grant to open the newest ASBTDC regional office in Fort Smith. Nationwide, regional offices partner with colleges and universities to offer confidential, free services to businesses with 500 employees or fewer.

Sabo said the center was the brainchild of Dr. Latisha Setlege, Dean of the College of Business & Industry. She said it would do her too much credit, but she acknowledged her contribution.

“It is true that when the ASBTDC state office in Little Rock approached UAFS with the opportunity to submit a proposal for a new center, I took the lead. The state office wanted to expand their footprint by opening a few new offices across the state, and they identified Fort Smith as an opportunity,” she said.

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“The Bakery project was just picking up speed at the time. Top leadership had decided that both the Center for Business and Professional Development and the Family Enterprise Center should be located there. I saw the addition of an ASBTDC office as a natural extension of our regional economic development goals.”

Both Settlage and Sabo credit the vision of UAFS Chancellor Dr. Terisa Riley admits that she gave new impetus to the project. It was Riley, on a tour of the UAFS portion of the bakery, who saw the unclaimed area and said, “I want it all.”

Sabo thinks the location is ideal.

“It’s a game changer,” he said. “It’s off campus. It’s less intimidating. Nobody will see you and there is ample parking. In this room we will offer 16 workshops and panel discussions this year.”

The time is also ripe, he said.

Sabo believes that entrepreneurship is the way to boost economic development today. He will receive Entrepreneurial Development Professional certification later this year. “Professionals with this certification essentially help create infrastructure for cities to make entrepreneurs successful,” he said.

“The ASBTDC office gives us the opportunity to support any company regardless of its stage of development,” said Settlage. “Aspiring entrepreneurs and small businesses can find support in concept development, market research and financial planning at ASBTDC.”

In addition to individual help, the center offers workshops and panel discussions. A panel of women in business received stellar reviews. A panel discussion with Hispanic business people, held in Spanish, was well attended.

The center has already begun to integrate the UAFS business faculty into the programs. A recent hour-long accounting session was well received, albeit daunting for some of the new and potential new business owners, he said, laughing.

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Sabo speculated on the next step for the ASBTDC.

“There is so much know-how here, and not just in the business faculty. Someone could host a design session using a simple program like Canva,” Sabo said.

“I hope to see in the years to come business and graphic design students working with us in their final year and having the resources to start a business by the end of the year. I already had three students who became entrepreneurs.”

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