UND faculty, UND-affiliated program ‘lead the way’ in supporting ND small businesses

As UND-affiliated Small Business Development Centers ramp up outreach, business and marketing faculty offer expertise

Image courtesy of ND SBDC.

As North Dakota’s small businesses face hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Tiffany Ford is making sure owners and entrepreneurs don’t have to face them alone.

Fortunately for her efforts, UND’s best and brightest in economics, finance and marketing are just down the hall.

Tiffany Ford

Ford is the recently named director for UND’s Center for Business Engagement & Development, the institution’s business outreach hub. Affiliated with the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration at UND, the Center hosts three separate national business assistance and resource programs, and provides these services to individuals and businesses throughout the state – at no cost.

To best serve the state, Ford now is expanding the reach and services of the North Dakota Small Business Development Centers (ND SBDC), one of three programs administered by the Center. And in the process, she has been recruiting UND faculty who can help support North Dakota’s statewide economic recovery.

This spring, the CARES Act provided emergency funding for small businesses through the much-discussed Paycheck Protection Plan, among other measures. The U.S. Small Business Administration was also enabled to deliver funding increases to each Small Business Development Center throughout the 50 states.

North Dakota’s SBDC received more than $1 million, in addition to the office’s annual federal, state and local funding, to provide support to businesses and organizations looking to keep their operations afloat.

“The state was given $1.28 million, and with that we’ve launched what we’re calling the 4R Project,” Ford said. “The four R’s stand for recover, reopen, reinvent and (be) resilient.

“Through this project, we’re increasing our capacity to ensure that all small businesses in North Dakota have the resources and information that they need to get back into business.”

Image courtesy of ND SBDC.

Building capacity through education

The first way the Gamble Hall-based ND SBDC has been able to increase its capacity is by bolstering its staffing across the state’s nine service center locations.

It’s the staff whom small business owners and entrepreneurs approach for assistance in developing comprehensive business plans and financial projections, along with other topics throughout the business lifecycle.

According to ND SBDC website, more than 1,000 individual clients were advised throughout 2019.

“The other way we’re building capacity is through education,” Ford said. “We’re looking to educate both our staff and our clients in multiple areas, within topics of business operations that may not have been relevant until now, such as disaster planning.”

While previously the SBDC hasn’t focused specifically on academics, as an outreach program, Ford is excited for the chance to leverage the knowledge and expertise of UND Nistler College faculty in this endeavor.

“I’m a double-degree graduate from UND, an alumni twice over” Ford mentioned. “Having a lot of passion and pride for UND, I’m really happy that our statewide program is hosted here.”

Drawing upon industry experience

This summer, half a dozen faculty members are preparing training materials for small businesses, including webinars and podcasts, as well as avenues for economic research concerning consumer tendencies and the impacts of COVID-19.

Ford said the faculty-driven increase in available training sessions will deliver valuable information to SBDC clients in the most efficient way possible.

Elizabeth Albin

Instructor Elizabeth Albin, in the marketing department, is drawing upon her 10-plus years of professional experience in the hospitality industry to record a podcast with fellow Instructor Sandra Luck discussing strategies on getting back to business amid COVID-19.

Since last year, sales for restaurant chains are down almost 70 percent, Albin said. The same, or perhaps worse, could likely be said for smaller businesses.

“Our topics are ranging from budgeting to cost control, to leadership, as well as safety concerns,” said Albin, whose podcast is titled Survival of the Fittest. “I’m also developing training sessions for a target audience who do everything themselves, for their business.”

Albin and Luck are also working on tutorials for maximizing social media exposure and keeping contact with customers as small businesses try to maintain cash flow. Through the podcast, both will be able to reflect on their business experience to deliver easy-to-digest information and strategies that have worked for them in the past. That said, today’s climate is somewhat unprecedented for modernized industries.

“The next year is going to be very challenging,” said Albin of the hospitality sector.

Research soon to be conducted by the Nistler College’s Institute of Policy and Business Analytics will look at consumer behavior in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. The results of the research may help businesses understand consumer expectations for retail and hospitality services. Stock image.

Opportunity for insightful research

With the Nistler College’s new Institute of Policy and Business Analytics (IPBA) at the ready, Chih-Ming Tan, associate dean for research at the College, said that the ND SBDC is providing a unique opportunity to collect valuable data.

The partnership also will help the Nistler College’s push for sources of external research funding, as evident in the formal inception of the long-developed IPBA in 2019.

Chih-Ming Tan

In collaboration with the ND SBDC, UND’s Center for Innovation and the North Dakota Department of Commerce, the Institute is interested in understanding – via survey – how individuals and households in the state will behave and make choices, depending on how the pandemic situation unfolds, said Tan.

“The survey is forward-looking and potentially informs contingency planning from the business point of view,” Tan continued. “We plan to present survey respondents with a number of scenarios that describe the severity of COVID-19 spread within the community, as well as policy responses to the level of severity.”

The primary goal is to provide guidance for businesses in terms of what consumers expect from them, what they will tolerate and how their consumption patterns will change, said Tan.

How will people react to a mask requirement to shop? When will consumers start substituting online shopping for in-store shopping? How long are people going to stay away from restaurants?

“These are just some of the questions that we want the survey to target,” Tan said.

David Flynn

David Flynn, the institute’s research director, said working through the SBDC means his team can develop primary resources for raw data about behaviors and behavioral changes in North Dakota.

“This is incredibly valuable, as it gives insights into motivation and concerns that may inform business and policy decisions going forward,” he said. “The development of this type of data is important and does not come around often.”

The Nistler College’s dean, Amy Henley, told UND Today that she is especially proud that faculty are working with the ND SBDC during a critical time for North Dakota’s economy, and that opportunities for collaboration are significant for faculty.

Amy Henley

Amy Henley

“The Small Business Development Center’s program has led the way in supporting small businesses during this crisis,” Henley said. “Their outstanding work, in partnership with the outreach and research efforts of our faculty, reflect the spirit of the Nistler College.”

With a mission of facilitating research opportunities for Nistler College faculty, Tan said that the IPBA is supporting a handful of projects that have direct impact on the local and regional community, directly informing key issues in public discourse that are critically relevant.

“If our work with the ND SBDC is able to inform businesses and help them mitigate the most negative impacts by formulating effective responses and contingencies, then, hopefully, we would have contributed to both ensuring the resilience of our economy and aid in its rapid recovery, going forward,” Tan said.