Allen Thomas '92: In his own words

Allen Thomas (COB ’92 and former ECU student body president) is the Region IV administrator for the Small Business Administration (SBA), whose mission is to start, grow and build resilient businesses. He supports Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, working out of Atlanta, Georgia. Still, he will be the first to tell you it’s hard to catch him there. He spends most of his time traveling, meeting with small-business owners and the organizations that support them, such as economic development boards, partner organizations and lending institutions. Thomas still calls Greenville home. 

He focuses on ensuring he and the SBA are seen as a resource conduit that connects banks and lenders with small-business owners and entrepreneurs who need capital. And in times of crises, (e.g., hurricanes and flooding, etc.), Thomas helps deliver billions in disaster recovery grants and lending to those individuals and organizations that need to get back on their feet. From managing Federal Emergency Management Agency responses to COVID response support for 35 million businesses, he helps to oversee an organization that builds and rebuilds communities. 

We recently spoke with Thomas about his career and how, early on, several interactions with the SBA made him an ideal choice to lead the administration’s largest region. 

“My first experience with the SBA was in the late ’90s when several ECU grads, including Paul Adkison (’91) and I, collaborated on a startup company called IQMax. We all brought different things to the table, such as technology, marketing, promotion, etc., but we did not know much about how to put a business together. We connected with a local small business development center that the SBA administers, and they helped with the structure of the business and provided mentoring. In 2018, we sold IQMax, and the rest is history.” 

In 2011,he became Greenville’s mayor, a position he held until 2017, focusing on economic and infrastructure growth, such as the redesignation of Highway 264 as Intersate 587. 

“During my time as mayor, I worked with multiple state and federal agencies, including the SBA, to bring resources to Greenville and eastern North Carolina.”

After Thomas became mayor, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper turned to him to lead the North Carolina Global Transpark, an industrial park and airport that supports the manufacturing and logistics needs of the aviation, aerospace, defense, emergency and advanced materials industries. It also served as a hub for hurricane disaster response and provided resiliency and recovery support for individuals and businesses. 

Thomas soon connected with ECU alumnus Jim Segrave. Segrave is the founder and CEO of flyExclusive, a luxury chartered jet company based in Kinston, and a member of the ECU Board of Trustees. Segrave brought Thomas on board to serve as the company’s executive vice president in 2019. Today, flyExclusive is one of the nation’s five largest private jet operators, according to its website.

“Ah, the pandemic crisis. That will get your attention quickly. You got 80 jets and 480 employees across airports worldwide,” Thomas said. “I learned about the SBA’s payroll protection program and additional resources. I had the opportunity to reengage and learn firsthand what a difference the SBA makes on a fundamental level for so many. After the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, flyExclusive responded with resilience, jobs were saved, and the company has doubled in size over the past five years.” 

An American Dream

Charlotte financier and business owner Erskine Bowles, former head of the SBA, recommended Thomas for consideration to run the southeast U.S. for the SBA, a position he started in 2021. 

“The SBA’s main role is to provide startups and growing small businesses access to capital, expertise, training and permitting, and government contracting,” said Thomas. “It‘s an honor working every day with great entrepreneurs.”

Talking with Thomas, the passion for small business success and sustainability is evident. Leaning on his previous business experience and knowledge of how governments can assist today’s business owners, Thomas is hitting the road, meeting people to get the word out about the SBA. Last year, he helped deliver more than $8 billion in traditional lending to small businesses in the southeast last year. He wants small-business owners to know that SBA is a resource for them, providing guidance on creating a business plan, building cash flow, conducting or finding market studies, creating banking relationships, and more. 

“We have district directors, deputy district directors and business experts in each state who can point you in the right direction. We also have great resource partners, such as small business development centers that can provide seed money and retired executives who mentor small startup businesses for free.” 

Thomas believes strongly in strategic relationships, recently launching an alliance between SBA and the National Pan-Hellenic Council (with 2.5 million members) to spearhead diversity in access to capital and resources for minority entrepreneurs, women, veterans and rural communities. 

Additionally, Thomas has always heavily utilized ECU College of Business (COB) interns throughout his career, including his time at flyExclusive. “They have amazing talent and provide value-added support and solutions to real business scenarios.”

Thomas carried these experiences to the SBA and developed internship strategies that were infused nationally at the SBA. All of which led to SBA to green light a national program.

Beyond his role at the SBA, Thomas hopes to continue working with ECU, the COB and the Miller School of Entrepreneurship.

“There’s no reason federal, state and local agencies shouldn’t be trusted partners with the university to be successful across the eastern part of the state.” 

“While I’m proud to be born and raised in eastern North Carolina, I’m even more proud to raise my family here by choice and be a part of building a future of which we can all be proud.”

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