The University of North Carolina at Pembroke recently opened the Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship at COMtech near campus.
Jim Thomas speaks at dedication
Funded by Los Angeles real estate developer and Pembroke, N.C., native Jim Thomas, the center is a program to assist new and emerging small businesses in the community.
“I would like to thank the University for the privilege of establishing this center,” Thomas said at the dedication ceremonies. “I am very much aware of the process of starting a successful business, and it seems there is a place and a need here in Pembroke.
“I was born in Pembroke and lived here until I was 16,” he continued. “When I think of the good fortune I’ve had, I attribute it in large part to the values instilled in me during my childhood here.”
Thomas contributed $500,000 to the University, which was matched by the North Carolina’s Distinguished Professors Endowment Trust Fund for creating distinguished professorships at UNC’s 16 universities.
Thomas said he vividly remembers working in tobacco fields and picking cotton as a youth. Today, he is chief executive officer and chairman of Thomas Property Group (TPGI, Nasdaq), a commercial real estate company with an enterprise market value of approximately $500 million.
An attorney, Thomas started the company in 1983. TPGI owns real estate across the U.S. and is engaged in the acquisition, development and management of office, retail and multifamily properties.
He said he would personally assist in guiding the Entrepreneurship Center.
“I have great hope and expectations for the center, and I will be a contributing part of it,” Thomas said. “This project is very important to me.”
He said the idea of investing in a distinguished professorship that would direct an entrepreneurship program held instant appeal when Dr. Eric Dent, dean of the School of Business, outlined it.
“This project speaks to the needs of the community where Mr. Thomas grew up,” Dr. Dent said. “It will serve as a resource for our students and support for businesses in this community.”
Dr. Michael Ensley, who joined UNCP in fall 2006, is the first Thomas Distinguished Chair in Entrepreneurship and director of the center.
“This gift will help us build undergraduate and graduate programs in entrepreneurship,” Dr. Ensley said. “It will also fund research in the area of entrepreneurship.”
UNCP Chancellor Allen C. Meadors thanked Thomas and announced new academic programs in entrepreneurship.
“UNCP has moved forward in many ways, and this gift will help our community move forward with us,” Chancellor Meadors said. “We will establish a minor in entrepreneurship that will be available to all students regardless of their major.
“This is a timely and generous gift,” he continued. “I can’t thank Jim and Sally Thomas enough.”
Robeson County’s Executive Director of Economic Development Greg Cummings offered thanks on behalf of the county.
“It’s a beautiful day for Robeson County and the School of Business at UNCP,” Cummings said. “Thank you Mr. Thomas for coming back home. We are humbly proud of you as one of our own.”