As students line up for freshly made sandwiches at the Joe Crowley Student Union, they are participating in one of University of Nevada, Reno’s creative public-private partnerships.
The innovative partnership between the University’s College of Business and the Port of Subs corporation is earning revenue for the college while serving as a learning lab for business students. The program, developed by the college’s Nevada Small Business Development Center, recently received the top honor in the “Excellence in Partnership Development” category at the summit of the University Economic Development Association, a national organization creating links between institutions of higher education and economic development partners.
”Students in two courses, one a traditional classroom course and the other a hands-on internship course, use the Port of Subs business venture to learn business management skills,” said Sam Males, state director of the Nevada Small Business Center at the University.
Bret Simmons, assistant professor of managerial sciences, and James Sundali, associate professor of managerial sciences, teach the classes and collaborate to benefit both classes. The internship students share their hands-on experiences with the classroom students who, in turn, offer solutions to challenges the interns may be facing.
“It’s worked very well,” Males said. “The students working with the Port of Subs corporate team have come up with creative ways to enhance the operation, particularly in reducing the time it takes to process your order.”
When the restaurant opened in January 2008, it had the highest opening-week sales of any of the 158 Port of Subs franchise locations. Monthly sales are now more than double what was anticipated before the restaurant opened.
John Larsen, a 1972 University graduate and chief executive officer of Port of Subs, has served on the Nevada Small Business Development Center advisory board since 1987.
“We couldn’t have done this without John’s generosity and his passion for trying to make University students better prepared for the business world,” Males said. “He financed the opening of the restaurant, and a portion of the profits generated are used to fund the two classes. The honor we received at the summit wouldn’t have been possible without John’s commitment to this project and the University.”
The national association recognized another of the University’s programs, the Community Business Matching Model, at the summit for assisting the neighboring communities of Laughlin, Nev., and Bullhead City, Ariz., after a major employer with a payroll of more than $20 million closed its doors. The program, part of the Center for Economic Development, was a finalist in the “Excellence in Economic Development Research” category.
Faculty from the University’s Cooperative Extension unit and College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources worked to develop strategies to mitigate regional job losses, taking into account the community’s desires, as well the goals of the business community. Faculty identified ways to improve local spending, business retention and quality of life.
“It was really rewarding, and the recognition by the association was great,” said Thomas Harris, the center’s director. “The University of Nevada, Reno was the only university to win two awards.”
“During these tough economic times, the University isn’t just relying on public funding and student fees to run its programs,” said Marc Johnson, University provost. “We are exploring more ways to create partnerships to help support our missions, as well as benefit our communities.”