Giving 210 percent: Nichols honored among state businesswomen

Published 12:08 am Sunday, November 2, 2014

Ruth Nichols sits at Natchez Coffee Company Friday. The Mississippi Business Journal recently chose Nichols as one of the top 50 businesswomen in the State of Mississippi. (Sam Gause/The Natchez Democrat)

Ruth Nichols sits at Natchez Coffee Company Friday. The Mississippi Business Journal recently chose Nichols as one of the top 50 businesswomen in the State of Mississippi. (Sam Gause/The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — Described as “driven to do well” by those who work with her, Ruth Nichols now has been recognized at a state level for her work organizing community partnerships to foster the business community.

Nichols, the associate vice president for community and educational partnerships at Alcorn State University, has been named one of the 50 leading businesswomen in Mississippi for 2014 by the Mississippi Business Journal.

She’s in contention for the businesswoman of the year for 2015.

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Those chosen are nominated by a third party and then chosen by a vetting panel. They are picked in part because of the role their contributions play in impacting the economy.

Nichols joins the ranks of area residents Janet Sullivan, Regina Charboneau, Debbie Hudson and Sabrina Bartley who have previously received the nomination.

“I was really, really honored because we have had some others from Natchez who have been named in the past, and being in the company of those women I know was a really humbling experience,” Nichols said.

Natchez is Nichols’ home, but she spent 22 years in Georgia creating professional networks and establishing herself in the educational field. Getting the nomination after having been back in Mississippi for five years is “a true honor,” she said.

“The reason I came back home was to try to give back to Natchez and Mississippi, and it takes time to develop those connections and those relationships and understand a new system of education and political and community development systems,” she said. “In some ways, I felt like I was playing catch up, and (the nomination) made me feel like maybe I can continue now to make strides toward helping our community to grow and prosper, and to also bring Alcorn to the forefront in our communities in Southwest Mississippi.”

Nichols helped organize the area’s Entrepreneur Academy, which teaches good business practices to current and aspiring small business owners. More than 100 people have completed the course in Natchez, now in its fourth class, and the Academy has recently expanded to Vicksburg.

She also helped spearhead the Possibilities Tour, a one-day event which showcases numerous vacant downtown Natchez spaces at the same time. The second Possibilities Tour will be Saturday, and the first one inspired other communities around the state to organize their own similar events.

Nichols was involved with the implementation of the racial reconciliation group Mission Mississippi’s initial work in Natchez, and is involved in an effort to have a mural erected at the Forks of the Road, the former slave market in Natchez.

She’s actively working on grants to support workforce assessment and the projection of needs for the upcoming workforce, and is involved in a regional effort to have the Miss-Lou certified as work ready through ACT, inc.

Her work has often been in concert with Natchez Inc., the Natchez-Adams County economic development agency. She’s also a member of the Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce board, a Rotarian and on the United Way board of trustees.

Nichols also helps coordinate the Friday Forum, a weekly talk during which members of the community are given a chance to hear from civic and political leaders about issues of importance or other interest.

All of that work is interconnected, Nichols said.

“All of those things are so connected and so dependent on each other, economic development, educational community development, social development, individual personal development,” she said. “Those all work together to create a community where people have the opportunity to prosper.

“My work at Alcorn, being allowed by Alcorn to be an ambassador for higher education and to carry the message of higher education out into the community, is a real gift.”

Nichols has a gift for organizing people in a way that gets them moving, Alcorn’s Interim Executive Vice President and Provost Donzell Lee said.

“She is just driven to do well and to engage others,” he said. “She knows how to engage other people and get people motivated.

“In addition to that, she is just an affable person. It is hard to say ‘no’ to her. She has good ideas and she just presents them in such a charming way it is hard to say ‘no.’”

Natchez Inc. Communications Director Aimee Guido has worked with Nichols on a number of projects, including the Entrepreneur’s Academy and the Possibilities Tour.

“No matter what she has done or who she is working with, she makes them her priority,” Guido said. “Whether it is working with a small business owner or somebody with a business idea or developing a play to help re-educate and recreate the workforce in our area, she gives it not just 110 percent but 210 percent.”

The awarding of businesswoman of the year will be announced in February.