UAFS College of Business: Dr. Ashok Subramanian, Dean of the College of Business, explains the economic and social aspects the University brings to our community
Early in 2016 I decided to join the leadership at the University of Arkansas Fort Smith (UAFS) as the Dean of the College of Business (COB). I remember being thoroughly impressed at that time by the strong ties and bonds of commitment between the COB at UAFS and the Fort Smith business and civic communities.
Over the last several months, I’ve become acquainted with the Fort Smith community. I’ve found enthusiastic support for my desire to blur the lines that separate the academy from the business and social communities. As the citizens of Fort Smith engage constructively as real partners in this effort to rejuvenate and reinvigorate the community, it is helpful to have a good understanding of the landscape and what we, the COB and UAFS, bring to the proverbial table of economic and community development.
It is conventional wisdom in economic development circles that colleges and universities are critical to the success of local and regional economies and communities. This is based on the fact that a university is a legitimate economic and social anchor. The substantial investments in local and regional real estate and social capital make it very difficult for the university to pull up stakes and leave the area, unlike corporations and businesses.
The university plays a number of economic and social anchor roles. A summary of these roles is presented below. They are drawn and derived from the research efforts and reports published by the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC). See http://icic.org/research/anchor-initiatives/.
Purchaser Urban universities spend more than $69 billion on the procurement of goods and services. Local purchasing programs create mutually beneficial partnerships between universities and communities. The programs provide investment for local businesses while creating improved service and delivery of goods to universities, given the close proximity of local vendors.
Employer Employment at postsecondary institutions represent more than two percent of total employment nationwide. Staff positions which usually outnumber faculty positions, are typically filled by recruiting from the local community.
Workforce Overlapping with the employer section, universities play a significant role in designing and implementing workforce training programs with local and regional businesses. Often, faculty with special skills and knowledge are hired to deploy these programs, and they become a resource that enriches the skill and knowledge-base of the community.
Real Estate Given universities’ real estate holdings in both urban and rural areas, the use of these properties can be an essential ingredient for neighborhood revitalization. Capital projects can boost at-risk economic corridors and employ local contractors, and development can spur regional economies through the creation of industry clusters.
Incubator Typically, the research capacity (faculty and lab resources) of universities is often leveraged to develop local knowledge-based economies such as the Protein Industry, Biomedicine, “Lights-out” (automated) manufacturing and other industries. In modest sized communities such as Fort Smith, the incubator role will work best when focused more on small local businesses, eclectic and creative businesses that rely on human creativity rather than expensive equipment, and spin-offs from established mature businesses such as food, logistics and transportation.
Advisor In an advisory role, a university can provide consulting services and networking opportunities to local businesses. For success in this arena, universities need to develop a comprehensive and interdisciplinary approach to advisory service. This is because the vast majority of needs in the business and social community reside at the intersection of conventional academic disciplines.
Community City administration increasingly finds itself constrained by tight budgets and short-staffings. Consequently, projects that could add value to the community, but are outside the scope of conventional operations, often don’t come to fruition. A university which is serious about its “service learning” mission could be a valuable resource in such instances. Development and implementation of community projects could be folded into academic curricula, thereby also providing a valuable experiential learning opportunity for students.
There is a bold attitude and energy on the campus at UAFS. The College of Business at UAFS is open for business, and there is a singular drive to be engaged as equal partners with business and civic organizations. We are fully committed to transforming Fort Smith and the neighboring communities into thriving hubs of economic and social prosperity. In future, my intention is to describe and discuss initiatives that are, and will be, instrumental in that transformation.
Dr. Ashok Subramanian is the Dean and Joel R. Stubblefield Endowed Chair in the College of Business at the University of Arkansas Fort Smith. He has both a PhD in Information Systems and an MBA from the University of Houston, as well as a BSc in Chemistry and Physics from the University of Bombay, India. He has extensive experience as a consultant and entrepreneur in the IT sector. Prior to his current position at UAFS, Dr. Subramanian’s leadership career includes being Dean of the Harold Walter Siebens School of Business at Buena Vista University, Iowa