Secretary of State Elaine Marshall hosts business roundtable at UNCP

NC Secretary
Secretary of State Elaine Marshall speaks to business owners during a business roundtable event at UNC Pembroke’s Thomas Entrepreneurship Hub

Secretary of State Elaine Marshall met recently with a dozen business owners at UNC Pembroke’s Thomas Entrepreneurship Hub as part of her mission to support rural businesses and connect them with state resources.


Marshall hosted a business roundtable event to hear firsthand from business owners like Joseph White, founder and CEO of Tuff Digital Marketing, who has operated out of the Hub since earning a business marketing degree from UNCP in 2019. White has leveraged resources at the Hub to build a successful career. Today, his business is among the top-rated marketing agencies in southeast North Carolina.

Marshall also used her visit to hear some business owners' challenges and highlight the Rural RISE NC initiative, which connects business owners with mentors, business counselors and funding opportunities. 

“This was a great event,” White said. “It’s great to have constant reminders that, as entrepreneurs, we have support. So, the fact that she took the time to come here, now I know I have a resource I can go to and navigate and find out more information.”

Rural RISE NC started in 14 counties in December 2020 and has since expanded to 72 counties, including Robeson, Hoke, Scotland and Moore counties. Regional economic developers and representatives from the small business centers at Robeson, Sandhills and Richmond community colleges also participated in the roundtable.

Since opening its doors in November 2015, the Thomas Entrepreneurship Hub has served the community by helping startups and small businesses start and grow into successful companies. The Hub is part of the university’s mission to build upon the foundation at UNCP and serve as an engine and a driver to strengthen our communities and meet southeastern North Carolina’s economic needs. Tuff Digital Marketing is one of 10 businesses located in the Hub––which assists owners like White with business planning, marketing, budgeting, business management, consultation, entity formation and networking opportunities.  

Marshall said the event was a great way to expose businesses, especially entrepreneurs, to valuable resources to help them succeed. In her visits across the state, Marshall said she has found a significant gap in entrepreneurs learning about what resources were available to them.

“It was great that we had some folks who have used some of the existing resources and they could tell other businesspeople that it was valid and that there are free resources at the local community college,” Marshall said.

“(Robeson Community College) is one of the best underutilized resources we’ve got in this county,” she said. “Robeson has a higher than most unemployment rate, but job creators are here to hire people and keep this county’s economy up. You have great potential here, and I want Robeson County to be just as good as it can be for its citizens' quality of life.”

According to Secretary Marshall, North Carolina has been “on fire” for new businesses, adding that 172,000 new companies were created in 2023—making it the second-highest year on record. Her office is approving nearly 700 new companies a day. 


“For the first four months of 2024, we are on pace to match our total from last year,” she said. 


Alfredo Irra, a UNCP graduate and owner of Vinyl Kings located at the Hub, was encouraged by the data Marshall provided.


“I’m glad we were having these conversations and that North Carolina businesses are growing, and the funding they have allocated to help us was an eye-opener,” Irra said. “We got a lot of value from hearing other entrepreneurs talk about their struggles. I think our collaboration and having everyone here to help with those resources were the biggest things for me. And that is what we need more of, these connections and being able to collaborate to get the results we need.”