By Curt Yeomans
Clayton State University officials received what they are calling a significant donation from a nationwide bank this week, to help support the school's Center for Research on Economic Sustainability and Trends (CREST).
The university's School of Business, which oversees the center, received a $25,000 grant Monday from the Bank of America Foundation, said Michael Tidwell, the School of Business' assistant dean of external relations. Tidwell said the money will be used to pay for operating expenses and marketing for the center.
"We're elated about this," Tidwell said. "It says a couple of things about this program. It says it's a worthy project, and it offers us a great deal of credibility because it is coming from a company with the size, scope and stature of Bank of America."
Tidwell said the grant from Bank of America comes some three months after he began working on the application for the money. He said it was the result of a couple of interactions with Bank of America's Georgia operations President Milton Jones, who spoke last year during part of the School of Business' Jim Wood Speaker Series.
Tidwell said during a subsequent lunch with Jones, the bank president asked him if there were any other ways Bank of America could help support the university's work, and the subject of CREST resulted.
Tidwell said he decided to apply for the grant because, "No. 1 ... they market themselves as the small business lender, and No. 2, they have a lot of locations within a 15-mile radius of this campus. And No. 3 is they seem to be very willing to help us out."
The application process included providing information about CREST to Bank of America representatives when they came to visit the school in March, including details on CREST's mission, how it is set up and what kind of work it does for the community, Tidwell said.
Les Moseley, a global community impact manager for Bank of America who worked with the center during the grant application process, said he could not comment on the grant, citing Bank of America media policies.
Tidwell said CREST was started last September to help local business and economic development officials, mainly local chambers of commerce, understand economic development and local consumer trends through research and analysis.
The center's work is conducted by three economists from the School of Business' faculty, including Lari Arjomand, Nikki Finlay and Reza Kheirandish. Tidwell said undergraduate- and graduate-level students are also helping out with the center's research.
CREST works with the Airport Area Chamber of Commerce, as well as chambers in six counties across the Southern Crescent area, including Clayton, Coweta, Fayette, Henry, Rockdale and Spalding counties, according to a written statement from School of Business Dean Jacob Chacko and university Spokesman John Shiffert.
"CREST helps local officials better leverage their human and financial capital while working to achieve economic growth," Chacko said in the written statement. "These services include, but are not limited to, basic economic data collection, economic trend analysis from [Current Population Survey] data, employer needs assessments, economic impact studies, and consumer confidence surveys."
Chamber of Commerce leaders in Clayton and Henry counties said they believe local business leaders will benefit greatly from CREST's work because of Clayton State's proximity to Southern Crescent communities.
Clayton County Chamber of Commerce President Yulonda Beauford said the Clayton chamber already has some economic data to show businesses that are considering moving to the county, but it is out of date. She added that CREST will help local chambers have more up-to-date, locally focused data to show business owners who are pondering a move to the Southern Crescent.
"It helps because they are in our community so they already have their finger on the pulse of this community," Beauford said. "It helps in gaining the most accurate data since their students and faculty are already here and they are familiar with the area."
Beauford and Henry County Chamber of Commerce Director of Programs Joey Balog said their respective organizations have already been able to work with CREST officials to provide local business owners with several seminars on a wide range of topics, from world economics, to the state of the economy, to the personalities of the different generations of employees currently in the work force.
"They've been working with us either by promoting and marketing these seminars, or ... by providing guest speakers for these events," Balog said. "We've been able to work with the university on seminars that focus on networking and development for businesses."
Beauford and Henry County Chamber of Commerce President Kay Pippin said although their respective organizations are just beginning to work with the newly formed CREST, they are looking forward to partnerships which they hope will help the local economy thrive in the years to come.
"Henry County is going to benefit greatly from this because Clayton State has very qualified and capable faculty and staff working there," Pippin said.
"At the end of the day, having access to this center's data is going to help us maintain the businesses that are already here, while also attracting new businesses to the area," Beauford said.