• UWA and Black Belt benefit from Alabama Power Foundation grant

    Posted: February 07, 2011

    Author: Meaghan Gordon

    LIVINGSTON, Ala.—The University of West Alabama’s new Center for Business and Economic Services recently received from the Alabama Power Foundation a $210,000 grant through “The University We Will Be” campaign to spearhead comprehensive economic and community development efforts in the Black Belt region.

    The foundation’s gift is the catalyst for the center, which is housed in the College of Business to assist officials in assessing local economies and trends, as well as provide business research and analysis for new and existing business. 

    Dr. Ken Tucker, UWA College of Business dean, believes the University is the single most important force for change and improvement in the Black Belt, and this grant will make a meaningful difference in the quality of life for all West Alabama residents. 

    “We greatly appreciate the Alabama Power Foundation’s generous gift, as the benefits will be seen for years to come in the economically challenged region we serve,” Tucker said. “This substantial investment allows us to fully establish the Center for Business and Economic Services and positively impact the Black Belt’s overall community and economic development efforts.” 

    Because local economic developers need specific research data when they evaluate a community’s development opportunities, Tucker says a goal of the center is to provide those specifics for the region. The facility will allow officials to analyze critical factors such as workforce needs, training and unemployment data. 

    Instead of a team conducting new research as opportunities repeatedly present themselves, the center will house readily available and industry specific information. 

    William “Billy” McFarland, Jr., formerly of the West Alabama Regional Commission, became the Center for Business and Economic Services director in January. 

    “As the center of higher education in the region, UWA’s footprint extends far beyond its main Livingston campus and the Demopolis Higher Education Center,” McFarland said. “I am honored to continue the University’s work to improve access to leadership training, economic development assistance and outreach.” 

    Alabama Power Western Division External Affairs Manager Joseph Brown noted that UWA is located in the Black Belt, which is among the nation’s 12 poorest counties. About 30 percent of the population lives below poverty level. 

    “Unemployment in the Black Belt ranges between 12 and 19 percent, which is among the highest rates in the United States,” said Brown, who chairs Region 3 of the Workforce Development Council of Alabama in developing a regional strategic plan for local job development. “The main goal of this foundation grant is to bring desperately needed economic development opportunities to these communities in the Black Belt. By having a center that can assist and unite the great efforts already in place, this can be the piece that will help bring a major industry to this area.” 

    Living most of his life in West Alabama, Eutaw resident and1975 UWA social sciences graduate Danny Cooper is well aware of the area’s need of economic development. As a member of the UWA Foundation Board of Directors, Cooper says the grant is a dream come true and a personal victory.  

    In efforts to assist his alma mater and the entire area, Cooper championed UWA’s “The University We Will Be” fundraising campaign three years ago. One of 60 UWA graduates currently working for Alabama Power, he was also a major petitioner to the Alabama Power Foundation for the university grant. 

     “This is home to me, and before I retire, I want to help make a difference in moving the University of West Alabama forward,” said Cooper, manager of the business office for Eutaw, Livingston and York for 21 years. 

    “This is a rural area, and UWA is our largest college,” he said. “This foundation grant is going to make worlds of difference in helping with economic development and much needed jobs. We are going to be good stewards of this grant.” 

    “The University We Will Be” campaign is an ongoing initiative to raise $15 million in gifts and pledges by 2012 for the University of West Alabama. These funds will improve campus facilities, provide scholarships, enhance the campus learning environment, support the faculty and fund community outreach projects. For more information, please contact the UWA Development Office at 205-652-5467. 

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