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Small Business Specialist Lee Retires from ASBTDC After 27 Years

Timothy Lee, project specialist, is retiring at the end of March after working for 27 years at the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center (ASBTDC) at UA Little Rock. 

If you’ve never met Lee in person, you may recognize him as the man around campus who is always sporting an iconic Indiana Jones hat.

“My family gave me that replica Indiana Jones hat over a decade ago, and I’m on my third hat now,” he said.

For ASBTDC, Lee has been at the forefront of technology and learning, serving as the organization’s webmaster while also creating and leading training for small businesses on all things web, from e-commerce to analytics. He also led several technology workshops at the national America’s SBDC annual conference.

“Tim is highly versatile, and his combination of technical and soft skills contributed to many successful projects,” said ASBTDC State Director Laura Fine. “I always appreciated his can-do attitude and willingness to take on any project, from cybersecurity to disaster recovery to resources for deaf and hard-of-hearing entrepreneurs. It has been a pleasure working alongside Tim for almost 27 years and seeing the impact he has had on ASBTDC, UA Little Rock, and the Arkansas small business community.”

After starting out his life in Little Rock, Lee left Arkansas with his family at the young age of two to follow his father’s career in the U.S. Navy.

A self-described military brat, Lee received a global education while growing up around the world from Virginia to Panama. The family returned to Arkansas in 1970 when Lee’s father retired from military service and went on to work as an assistant registrar at UA Little Rock.

On April 22, 1977, his parents’ anniversary, Lee followed his father’s footsteps to join the military, choosing to enter the U.S. Air Force. A veteran of both Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, he served tours in England, Italy, Greece, and Korea during his 18-year career and received the Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters.

A lifelong learner, Lee used his time abroad to learn multiple languages and earn several degrees. Throughout his life, he’s studied a total of seven languages, including American Sign Language, English, Greek, Italian, Korean, Spanish, and Russian.

His degrees include an Associate of Applied Science in Avionics Navigation Systems Technology and an Associate of Applied Science in Disaster Preparedness Technology from the Community College of the Air Force and a Bachelor of Science in Workforce Education and Development from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.

As his retirement from the Air Force approached in 1995, Lee’s mother, who was anxious to have him return home, would send him newspaper clippings of job listings in Arkansas. One was for a position at the UA Little Rock small business center that involved traveling around the communities in the Arkansas Delta to teach people how to use the Internet and computer programs like Microsoft Word and Excel.

Tim Lee leads a cybersecurity workshop for small business owners.
Tim Lee leads a cybersecurity workshop for small business owners.

He still fondly recalls this as his favorite project during his career at ASBTDC.

“My first project, where I drove around teaching people how to use the Internet, was my favorite,” Lee said. “It was a lot of work, and those were long days, but it was very rewarding. I got reintroduced to our state. I think we did a lot of great work in economic development and teaching business owners the value of having a website.”

More recently, Lee has helped small businesses generate sales with their online presence. With Lee’s guidance, Ekko Barnhill of Barnhill Orchards in Lonoke began putting her e-commerce ideas into action. The family-owned farm and market launched its online store in 2020.

“I didn’t even know what I didn’t know, and Timothy is a wealth of knowledge,” said Barnhill.

Since his military retirement, Lee has served as an advocate for veterans. He’s a longtime instructor of the Boots to Business course at Little Rock Air Force Base, a Small Business Administration transition assistance program for service members leaving active duty.

When Arkansas units were deployed, he also voluntarily worked weekends preparing small business owners in the Arkansas National Guard for deployment and representing the ASBTDC at 30, 60, and 90-day reintegration events.

In 2020, he was named the national Boots to Business Instructor of the Year by the SBA Office of Veterans Business Development.

Tim Lee receives the national Boots to Business Instructor of the Year Award in 2020.
Tim Lee receives the national Boots to Business Instructor of the Year Award in 2020.

In 2016, Lee received the Staff Achievement Award for Personal Growth for his work with the Deaf community. After taking ASL classes with his wife Connie, Lee presented an idea to produce training videos for those who are deaf and hard of hearing.

ASBTDC was awarded a $95,000 grant for the project, and he developed courses on how to start a business and how to write a business plan and worked with ASL interpreters to deliver the material.

Once he retires, one of Lee’s goals is to finish his associate degree in ASL at UA Little Rock, a promise he made to one of his professors that he intends to keep. However, he’s starting his retirement by ticking off one of his lifelong goals. After an April 12 bus trip to Georgia, Lee will begin a solo 470-mile hike along the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Damascus, Virginia. He previously hiked other shorter sections of the Appalachian Trail.

“I’ve wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail ever since I read the book, ‘Walking with Spring,’ when I was a teenager,” Lee said. “I always liked the concept. I had a heart attack last July. This is part of my recovery. I train three times a week on a treadmill while wearing 20 pounds of rice in my backpack.”

When Lee returns from his solo hike in June, he also plans to dedicate time to taking interesting college classes and doing volunteer work. Lee’s community service record includes serving on the Arkansas Governor’s Earthquake Council and the Arkansas Governor’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Council, where he represented the business and industry sector.

In addition to serving as a volunteer and disaster management instructor with American Red Cross, Lee is also a long-time licensed HAM Radio operator and member of the Central Arkansas Radio Emergency Net (CAREN) radio club. CAREN is the state leader in emergency communications, SKYWARN, Amateur Radio Emergency Service, Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES), public service event support, and training for emergency communications response.

Lee uses his skills to volunteer as a radio operator at events like races and marathons. He received the Tommie Black KE5JNR Spirit of Ham Radio Award in 2019 from CAREN.

“I often volunteer with marathons and bike races like the Tour de Rock to keep tabs on the race, and we can call in the police if someone needs help,” Lee said. “It’s a lot of fun, and it’s one of my ways to give back to the community.”