Long Island City, NY—Before an audience of over 40 business leaders, LaGuardia Community College President Gail O. Mellow, was interviewed by NY1 News Anchor Cheryl Wills on the vital role the College plays in helping small businesses grow and thrive.
During the 45-minute interview, Dr. Mellow passionately spoke about the important place community colleges hold in higher education and the difference LaGuardia is making in the business community through its innovative programs. The interview was part of the LaGuardia Community College Foundation’s Annual Meeting held on December 1.
The interview began with Ms. Wills asking what makes community colleges unique. Dr. Mellow responded that unlike prestigious universities that have a highly selective admission policy, community colleges accept everyone who wishes to attend college. “In a very American way, we are going to find out who you are right now and we are going to take you to the next step,” she said. “I think America has to change its understanding of who goes to college, because the majority of students begin their higher education at a community college.”
She went on to say that the institution’s uniqueness also extends to its program offerings. “We care about education at every single level,” said Dr. Mellow, “and we play a pivotal role in providing very specific needs for those who live in the community, whether it is English as a Second Language, high school equivalency preparation or job skills training.”
The conversation then focused on how the College is aiding small businesses. Dr. Mellow pointed to the Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) that helps businesses procure city, state and federal contracts. Since the center was established in 1999 she said that it has helped 375 businesses secure $120 million in contracts.
She cited Luis Lopez, a client who sought PTAC’s services in 2003. In those nine years, the owner of Alante Security Group has secured more than $11 million in contracts and created 237 jobs. “We were the wind beneath Luis’s wings,” said Dr. Mellow. “He had the fire in his belly, the smarts and the creativity. We helped him have the know-how to be able to access these new funding sources.”
Another LaGuardia resource that she mentioned was the Small Business Development Center, which helps small business owners design business plans, develop marketing strategies and connect with capital sources. Since opening its doors in 2001, the Center has served 2,538 businesses that have secured $25.6 million in loans and have created 363 jobs.
In response to a question on how the College has helped small businesses weather the recession, President Mellow spoke of 10,000 Small Businesses, a program launched at LaGuardia, initiated and funded by the Goldman Sachs Foundation. This intensive 10-week program, which Dr. Mellow describes as a “mini MBA”, provides counseling and one-on-one mentoring to selected small business owners.
“I was surprised that many of the small business owners [in the 10,000 Small Businesses program] had limited knowledge of basic business practices,” said Dr. Mellow. “We give them what they need to know to grow their business and create jobs.”
Since the program began two years ago, it has served 82 businesses that have created 194 new jobs, received 15 loans totaling $3.9 million and negotiated 82 new contracts valued at $39 million.
The President cited one client, Jessica Johnson, who had to take over the family’s security business when her father was stricken by a heart attack. After completing the course, Ms. Johnson grew the company from 16 employees to 60 and set it on its way to earning $1 million in revenue this year.
In response to a question about how businesses can thrive in this rapidly changing economy, Dr. Mellow advised the business owners in the audience to keep their skills sharp, learn how to exploit the Internet, be creative and be willing to try new things. Ms. Wills added to the list. “You need to be media savvy,” she said. “Keep in mind that local TV loves small businesses with a ‘kick.’ We love the little guy or gal who scraps their pennies together to start up a small business.”
Dr. Mellow also urged the business owners to keep LaGuardia apprised of their needs. “We need small businesses to tell us what is out there that we should pay attention to, and what they are struggling with. We have the resources—our programs, our faculty, our students—who can help you.”
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LaGuardia Community College Foundation was incorporated in 2003 as a 501(c)(3) private, not-for-profit organization. Managed by a board of directors comprised of business and community leaders, the Foundation has raised over $4.4 million dollars and has awarded over 3,000 scholarships to students with financial need. Visit www.laguardia.edu/lagfoundation for more information.
LaGuardia Community College located in Long Island City, Queens, was founded in 1971 as a bold experiment in opening the doors of higher education to all, and we proudly carry forward that legacy today. LaGuardia educates students through over 50 degree, certificate and continuing education programs, providing an inspiring place for students to achieve their dreams. Upon graduation, LaGuardia students’ lives are transformed as family income increases 17%, and students transfer to four-year colleges at three times the national average. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), LaGuardia is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges for boundary-breaking success educating underserved students. At LaGuardia we imagine new ideas, create new curriculum and pioneer programs to make our community and our country stronger. Visit www.laguardia.edu to learn more.