By Ali Nicole

“These services allow decision makers to have the information they need to make better decisions,” says John Hickman, director of The Business Economic and Community Outreach Network or BEACON for short. As a program and service that has been in existence at Salisbury University for more than thirty years, Hickman is summing up how BEACON can serve local businesses through the Franklin P. Perdue School of Business. On its website, BEACON’s mission states it, “offers applied business and economic research and targeted outreach programs to a variety of organizations.”

BEACON is a unique project that is able to serve both the local commerce community and Salisbury University business students. This program works with businesses of all kinds—private, non-profit, and government entities—providing a bevy of research services to address a variety of business needs. They do this by connecting a team of business students led by professors to the projects that address real needs for local businesses and business owners.

Hickman describes that this work, “may be developing information or surveys and tracking consumer sentiments, or working within the organization to track processes, for example. Also, it is important to us to serve as a learning lab for our students and professors for applied practice.”

While students get hands on experience with applying classroom knowledge and learning prioritization, businesses gain a variety of in-demand services to help them develop, grow, problem-solve, project trends and future finances, and more. Hickman describes examples of BEACON’s real-world impact such as working on a study to test the feasibility of a potential business, ways to differentiate the services provided and a timeline for completion, and successfully helping an established business gain financial backing to expand a product line by providing proof of market data as a third-party verifier. He says some of the most common needs clients are looking for tend to be strategic planning, feasibility analysis, surveying of consumers and competitors, market analysis, and economic impact analysis.

While BEACON’s clients are gaining in-depth, extensive services when they engage with the project, students and faculty at Salisbury University are gaining experience, knowledge, and connection within the local business community. Hickman finds that many of the students that work with BEACON are referred there by other students working there currently or in the past. He says, “it validates that students that are working here are having a good experience and share that with their peers.” Many students also find their way to BEACON seeking internship experiences and graduate assistant positions, as well.

The result is a wide variability of business students from diverse sects of the school of business as well as different levels of education being able provide a broad spectrum of viewpoints and talents. With the direction of business school faculty members, these students are getting to not only see the impact of their learning in real time, but also gain relationships within the business world that tend to be crucial in the field.

Relationships have a tendency to be where much of BEACON’s clientele arises from, given their three decades in the community. Whether it be returning clients or new clients acting on a recommendation, the program’s reputation begets its connection with those needing their services. Being part of a highly regarded business school at a university and having a footprint in published business reports locally also provides consumer traffic.

BEACON doesn’t rely solely on a well-known name and actively works to stay engaged in the community. The group supports United Way and other non-profits, attends networking events, and does evaluations for area events and lobbying causes for economic development in the regional area.

Staying active in the community allows BEACON to tap into the needs of the businesses they intend to serve. “We try to look for issues that are important to the community. Those may come as we talk with local or state government or making sure we’re hearing the needs around the community,” states Hickman. He cited a recent example of finding the answer to supporting an aging workforce and fulfilling workforce needs in the community is to bring them together and Hickman sees this as, “an opportunity for business.”

Hickman stresses that, despite having a bevy of services provided, BEACON 

is not always the right group for the job. “Sometimes we may not be the right answer for a business as they’re looking for a solution, but we may be able to direct them to the resource that is the correct one for them… sometimes we’re there to say, you don’t really need us; this is a better solution.” To find out if BEACON is right for your business needs, visit their webpage within Salisbury University’s website at