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Grant helps fund rural business

Briana Harris

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A University of Alabama program will receive a $75,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to provide more resources to entrepreneurs in West Alabama, Gov. Robert Bentley announced last week.

The Alabama Entrepreneurial Research Network is a UA program that provides assistance to entrepreneurs by opening AERN Centers in local communities, Mary Patterson, outreach coordinator for AERN, said.

These centers allow entrepreneurs access to computers, business planning software and business resource books. AERN Centers also conduct business workshops, provide business owners with access to services at Bruno Business Library on the UA campus and train chamber directors and economic development directors on how to assist business owners.

Patterson said it has been a rewarding experience to know she and her team are helping entrepreneurs make sound business decisions. “I am excited to be a part of helping small businesses succeed in rural Alabama,” she said.

Bentley serves as the co-chairman of The Appalachian Regional Commission, which is a federal-state supplemental grant program that aims to raise the standard of living, improve the quality of life and promote economic development in the Appalachian mountain region, a press release stated.

In the press release, Bentley said he praises AERN for their efforts to help entrepreneurs grow their business.

“I commend the University for partnering with local governments and chambers of commerce in West Alabama to help residents turn ideas into viable businesses,” he said. “Expanding business opportunities in low-income rural areas of Alabama is essential for creating jobs and improving the quality of life.”

In addition to the money awarded by the Appalachian Regional Commission, AERN’s partner agencies, as well as the University, will award funds to AERN.

The Alabama Entrepreneurial Research Network will receive a total of more than $109,000 in grant money to facilitate new centers in Lamar and Hale counties, as well as to provide support to seven existing centers for one year, Patterson said.

“All expenditures are precisely planned and documented according to the grant guidelines to achieve the desired outcomes of creating and expanding businesses, retaining jobs and producing leveraged private investments,” she said.

It is important that entrepreneurs have access to the latest resources and information in order to compete in today’s global economy, Patterson added.

Michael Hardin, dean of the Culverhouse College of Commerce, said AERN deserves tremendous credit for the work being done in their centers.

“The Appalachian Regional Commission could not have found a better investment for that money, and the people in these communities really respect UA and the program,” Hardin said.

Patterson said she is thankful Judy Bonner supports the program, and Hardin has the vision to expand AERN to reach more aspiring entrepreneurs.

“We are achieving results that greatly improve people’s lives, and we are constantly seeking feedback from entrepreneurs as to how we can provide more assistance,” Patterson said.

For assistance from AERN, visit their website,

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Grant helps fund rural business