Power Moves: Business leader Aliquippa Allen prepares entrepreneurs for success in Alabama’s Black Belt

During her 28 years of service in the US Air Force, Aliquippa Allen lived in and around rural communities where businesses like movie theaters, bowling alleys, clubs and recreation centers closed their doors forever. It was during this time that she realized the importance of investing in small towns and helping them build a sustainable economy. To achieve this goal, she founded the Rural Business and Training Center (RBTC) in Demopolis in July 2020.

“The goals of the RBTC are to identify and educate emerging entrepreneurs who are willing to invest in their communities by creating new businesses and repurposing existing structures necessary to build a sustainable economy,” Allen said. “[So far] 50 people have participated in our CO.STARTERS Get Started workshop program, with graduates having started four new companies since graduation.”

Power Moves: Aliquippa Allen from the Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

With attendees from Hale, Marengo and Perry counties, Allen said RBTC is poised to expand to reach more business-minded people across Black Belts. Knowing how close-knit these communities are, Allen seeks to make connections through the RBTC in addition to offering training programs. The center works with 15 local entrepreneurs who share their challenges and successes during each cohort.

Although the RBTC is specifically geared towards Black Belt businesses, Allen believes it is important to empower entrepreneurs in rural communities across Alabama to build a more economically sustainable region.

“Every rural town in Alabama isn’t going to see a mega-industry for several valid reasons, but that doesn’t mean cities and towns should roll up the sidewalks and board up their windows and doors,” Allen said. “Organizations like the RBTC offer programs to empower aspiring entrepreneurs and help them build confidence to start or operate their existing businesses more efficiently.”

Since starting her nonprofit, Allen has seen a shift in the way people work and thrive economically during a pandemic and beyond. Allen believes this shift demonstrates the potential for small towns to thrive and how impact rural entrepreneurs can have on the business world and communities throughout Alabama and beyond.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve realized that people can work from anywhere,” Allen said. “Natives return to their hometowns with business ideas and capital to inject into the local economy. Positive change in the existing business ecosystem in rural communities will provide increased employment opportunities and revitalization of cities and towns, while contributing to community and economic development.”

Looking back on her success, Allen attributes her core values ​​to what she learned in the Air Force. She believes that true change only happens when people with integrity work hard and don’t wait for change. Allen is optimistic about the future of the Black Belt.

“I want to leave a legacy of hope and inspiration in the once thriving Black Belt communities. Ever since the Great Migration, we’ve seen a steady outflow of some very prominent people doing some extraordinary things in this world. Today there is still the same kind of talent in our communities. I pray that the programs offered by RBTC inspire, empower, educate and provide access to much-needed resources and knowledge.”

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