A NACCE Entrepreneurial President Profile:
Dr. Kevin S. Boys, Southern State Community College, Hillsboro, OH
Southern State Community College, where Kevin Boys became the fifth president in January 2010, serves five counties in rural southern Ohio. Four of the five counties are considered part of Appalachia, a region that is blessed with natural beauty but has long struggled with poverty. Agriculture is the leading industry of the area, with small family farms making up most of this sector. The region has the highest unemployment rates in the state, ranging from 18 percent in Highland County, home of SSCC's main campus, to as high as 30 percent in some communities.
While the area has long struggled with unemployment, things took a disastrous turn when DHL, the express delivery company, announced in 2008 that it was closing its facility in Wilmington, a town that is home to one of SSCC's four campuses. Airborne Express, which was acquired by DHL in 2003, had built the nation's largest privately owned airpark in Wilmington. With the closure of this facility, thousands of jobs melted away in a story that made national headlines. "It's a tragic story,” says Boys. "The whole city of Wilmington was impacted, but most people don't realize that a large number of people in surrounding counties who worked for DHL or related companies were also affected.”
In 2010, DHL agreed to turn over the airpark to the Clinton County Port Authority for redevelopment. While the authority has begun to attract other businesses, there is still a long way to go before the lost jobs are replaced with new ones.
SSCC has been around since 1975, when it was established as Southern State General and Technical College. The school's current enrollment of about 3,700 students represents a big up-tick over the last several years. "Last year, our enrollment was up over 30 percent from the previous year and it's up 8 percent this school year,” says Boys. "Most of our students qualify for federal financial aid and for resources devoted to people who are out of work. While the median age of our students is 23, we've seen the largest increase in the 41 to 50 age bracket. We've also seen tremendous growth in high school students who take courses with us. They represent about 16 percent of our total enrollment. They graduate from high school with an associate's degree. We want to keep that growing and expand the opportunities to take courses during high school at the college.”Hit the Ground Running
Boys followed a unique path to his present job. "I spent the last 31 years in K-12 education,” he says. "I was very familiar with things like collective bargaining and working with a board. What I was unfamiliar with was workforce development and economic development; that's been an area where I've had to learn a lot in a short period of time. I hit the ground with meetings with chambers of commerce and other organizations. I would hear stories of the unemployment numbers and the taskforce in Wilmington dealing with the DHL closure, so I got a pretty quick picture of how dire it was in our area.
"One of the phrases I would hear occasionally was the idea of making a job, not taking a job,” Boys says. "That was clear to me; there weren't companies breaking down the doors to locate here so the idea of entrepreneurship rang true to me and is one that I came to support very quickly. I don't think I'd been on the job a week and the president of the Highland Chamber of Commerce had a grant application to the USDA grant to hire an enterprise facilitator.”
The grant was for hiring and training a facilitator along a model developed by Ernesto Sirolli of the Sirolli Institute, which specializes in enterprise facilitation to create a civic economy, a model of development that supports the creation of wealth from within a community by nurturing the intelligence and resourcefulness of local people. "It's a unique model that is not so much about providing answers to people in terms of helping them develop a business, but is really about getting them to ask questions and help them determine if they really have a passion for the hours it will take and the financial means it will take to make this passion become a reality,” explains Boys.
The grant application was successful and SSCC now serve as the fiscal agent for the initiative. An enterprise facilitator was hired and has been working in the county to make connections since early November. This individual has informal conversations with would-be business owners and then helps them meet the people they need to meet to get on the path to business success. "We are the first facility in Ohio to use this model,” reports Boys. "We're hoping to see it replicated in other parts of the state. The interesting thing about this model is its rate of success compared to most start-up businesses is phenomenal; there is about an 80 percent success rate after three years.”
Ernesto Sirolli and his staff came to Hillsboro last summer to talk about the model and they stressed the importance of having an advisory board of local successful business people. "We put together a group that includes people from different areas of our small business community, along with someone who works in community relations at our college and another college employee who does similar enterprise facilitation in Adams County,” says Boys. "The idea is that the people on this board and other members of the business community they know will assist people who have a passion for creating a business.”Other Entrepreneurship Offerings
While the enterprise facilitation program has been one of Boys' main focuses in terms of economic development since his arrival at SSCC, the college has other programs in place to support entrepreneurs. Its Enterprise Center in Adams County is staffed by a Certified Business Advisor® who offers cost-free one-on-one consulting and referral services to pre-venture, start-up, or existing businesses.In addition to an incubator, the center is the gateway to Southern State's Entrepreneurship Certificate Program , which is offered online. The center also offers workshops on topics such as project management and Internet marketing, both face-to-face and online.
"Other thing we're doing is that we just received approval for an emphasis within a business degree on entrepreneurship and that will start next fall,” says Boys. "Little by little the idea of entrepreneurship and small businesses is going to be the idea for reviving our economy. I think we'll see companies coming into the area and some development of the former DHL facilities. As a region our future is small businesses and agriculture and related businesses and we want to do all we can to contribute to that.
"For community colleges to be involved in entrepreneurship is important,” Boys adds. "We're about helping people achieve their dream and this is another path where people have a dream. This is a group of people across all ages who have thought about their dream all their lives, and we're helping them do that. There is a lot of satisfaction in doing that type of work.”Inspiration from NACCE
Boys attended his first NACCE Conference last fall and recalls it as a great experience. "Conferences always have an effect of revving you up,” he says. "One of the intents of most conferences is to rekindle your interest in something and for me the NACCE conference had that effect. When you see success like that it can't help but rejuvenate you. We see NACCE as a resource. We can pick up the phone and talk to someone and they will help us make connections. For example, if we have success with the Sirolli model and NACCE knows about it, they can help others learn about it. It's all about networking and collaboration and partnership and the synergy that comes from that.
"My other takeaway from the conference was the idea of imbedding the concept of entrepreneurship throughout the curriculum,” Boys adds. "We have a lot of students in technical programs, particularly in health related fields, and having them be aware of the context of entrepreneurship is important. They may work for a year or so in their field and then get an idea that might inspire a whole different approach and they can start a company. We're going to work toward integrating entrepreneurship into the whole curriculum; it's in the percolating stage now.” Obvious Impact on the Community
Of his career transition, Boys says, "I love it! I told someone the other day it took me only about two weeks to get a real passion for the work we do at community colleges and in the area of entrepreneurship and economic development in particular. The area we serve is great; the people are good, solid people. They speak what's on their mind and do it in a civil kind of way. I would describe the people in our five counties as salt of the earth people and they're so appreciative of what the college does.
"I've been blessed to work in a field where the rewards are there right in front of you in terms of affecting people's lives,” Boys adds. "I can't go anywhere in this area without having a conversation with people who say I took a course there or my granddaughter just graduated. As I remind my direct reports from time to time, what would this area be like without us? It's good question to ask. It's a sobering question, but a tremendously uplifting question.”