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Small businesses, entrepreneurs to receive assistance
Those helping launch the Gulf Coast Business Resource Center of the Mississippi Small Business Development Center included, left to right, Hughes Miller, University of Mississippi director of industry engagement; Shawnboda Mead, UM vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement; Josh Gladden, UM vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs; Anthony Montgomery, senior vice president for community and economic development of Hancock Whitney; Sharon Nichols, state director of MS-SBDC; John Hairston, president/CEO of Hancock Whitney; Billy Hewes, major of the City of Gulfport; Judy Forester, associate state director of MS-SBDC; and LaShaundra McCarty, former public information officer for the City of Gulfport and now CEO of StraightForward.

Hancock Whitney partnered with the Mississippi Small Business Development Center, headquartered at the University of Mississippi, and saw great returns. They opened the Gulf Coast Business Resource Center in downtown Gulfport, Mississippi.

With a gift-in-kind of almost $82,000 to the university, Hancock Whitney allowed the Gulf Coast Business Resource Center to move into the eighth floor of their historic building at Hancock Whitney Plaza a year ago, and it surpassed all its Small Business Administration goals.

Since opening its doors, the Gulf Coast Business Resource Center has counseled 1,802 clients and helped support the start of 65 businesses, according to data provided by Mitchell McDowell, assistant director of the MS-SBDC. McDowell works for the MS-SBDC, which is based in the School of Business Administration on the Oxford campus but lives in Gulfport full time to provide consistent personnel support to small business owners in the area.

During this time, 1,731 jobs were saved largely through SBA COVID-19 loans. The 261 SBA COVID-19 loans received by clients totaled more than $12.7 million.

“Collaboration is the future, and together with Hancock Whitney, we will make sure that small businesses in South Mississippi have every opportunity to thrive,” said Sharon Nichols, MS-SBDC’s state director. “If Mississippi’s small business ecosystem is successful and growing, then the economy of our state is successful and growing.

“We are extremely grateful for Hancock Whitney’s support of the Gulf Coast Business Resource Center, which serves Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, Stone, Pearl River and George counties,” she said.

Hancock Whitney became a partner when the center lost its home in the Innovation Center. McDowell and Nichols discussed space at the bank’s corporate headquarters with Anthony Montgomery, senior vice president on the community and economic development team at Hancock Whitney.

“It’s been a real pleasure dealing with the Mississippi Small Business Development Center. It’s evolved into a great relationship,” said Montgomery, who is an enthusiastic proponent of the services and resources offered through the four pillars of growth, funding, management and marketing.

“Hancock Whitney is always looking for opportunities for community reinvestments. I ended up taking the idea to senior management as a way to give back,” Montgomery said. “What better support can we give than to provide this direct help for small business owners and entrepreneurs?”

The full-time staff includes trained MS-SBDC business counselors and an international trade specialist. The Hancock Whitney space cements the center as a go-to hub for business resources in south Mississippi, as the Mississippi Contract Procurement Center and the Veterans Outreach Center are also located there. Montgomery and McDowell are trying to secure the Legacy Business League — a chamber of commerce-type organization for minorities and women — for an office there.

John M. Hairston, Hancock Whitney president and CEO, said locating the center on the bank’s corporate campus created a true hub of resources specifically designed to help small businesses succeed.

“Additionally, we feel like we’ve come full circle in a long, productive relationship between SBA and our bank. In good times, we’ve worked closely with SBA to help small businesses thrive. In the wake of crises affecting our area and local businesses, we’ve rolled up our sleeves with SBA and their affiliates to get much-needed money to people and businesses working together to move forward,” said Hairston.

Connie Whitt, director of the center and a second center based at the University of Southern Mississippi, said, “We’ve had a great response to opening the Gulf Coast Business Resource Center. We’re now in an iconic building that everyone knows and on a main thoroughfare with several other financial organizations.”

In addition to one-on-one counseling, the Gulf Coast Business Resource Center hosts on-demand videos and webinars, provides technical assistance and offers international trade expertise. April Holland, the statewide training specialist, plans conferences on legal issues, cybersecurity, SBA lending programs, local lenders, export opportunities, business resource partners and more.

The Hancock Whitney gift ensures the center has “more boots on the ground in south Mississippi,” as the funds usually reserved for rent and utilities can be spent on additional business counselors, McDowell said.

Several leaders from the university attended the grand opening event of the Gulf Coast Business Resource Center to show support for the program and for communities in the region. As part of the trip, the Ole Miss team met with a cohort of Hancock Whitney leaders and alumni who work at Hancock Whitney to discuss other ways the two could partner, such as recruiting students for internships and full-time roles as well as supporting Gulf Coast communities and economic development.

The university remains engaged with Hancock Whitney and hosted several of its leaders on campus for the Banking and Finance Symposium in the fall.

Hancock Whitney was founded in 1899. By 1939, the bank had moved its corporate domicile from Bay St. Louis to Gulfport, where it remains the largest bank headquartered in South Mississippi. BauerFinancial Inc., the country’s leading independent bank rating and analysis firm, consistently rates Hancock Whitney among the top quartile of America’s strongest, safest financial institutions.

The Gulf Coast Business Resource Center is available to small business owners across the region. More information can be found at

The university strives to be a resource and partner for industry through mutually beneficial relationships. To learn more about the university’s industry engagement initiative, visit

By Michelle Thompson/MS-SBDC and Tina H. Hahn/UM Development


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