Local Entrepreneurship: A Return to Main Street

An obvious answer to the question of how to stimulate local economies is job creation, but that’s only a fraction of the answer. Steady growth of local business improves communities as well as the overall economies and ecosystem of these communities – small cities, college towns, rural markets, and essentially, areas beyond larger cities and the first ring of suburbs.

If there was a silver lining in the pandemic, it’s the realization that work could be efficiently and effectively performed away from the office. Mind you, I’m not a big proponent of all work being performed remotely, but the flexibility of a hybrid work structure would enable individuals and families to live further away from urban areas and close suburbs. It provides opportunity to reside 50-80 miles or more away from the office as commuting would be limited to a couple of days a week. Thus, many, if not most wouldn’t mind a longer commute if it wasn’t required every day.

As well, college towns like Auburn, Alabama and College Station, Texas, always attractive to its alumni and former students, but lacking opportunities for a wide range of careers beyond those at or related to the local university. Yet, being able to live there was a consideration, but really not much of an option. But the dream remained.

Even with the flexibility to live further away from the ‘big’ city and crowded suburbs, how does a small town attract individuals and families to their area? There must be amenities. There must be conveniences they’ve grown accustomed to. There must be good schools for their children. There must be restaurants and movie theaters. And the list goes on.

Unfortunately, many small towns have seen better days, but a renaissance of sorts has started. City and county economic development departments are extremely busy looking for ways to showcase their local market. Sure, a few may become a destination such as what’s going on in Johnson City, Texas as a growing Texas wine market.

But truly, what is sustainable for towns over the long-term? How do they achieve balance as opposed to having all their eggs in one basket? The answer is local entrepreneurship.

Businesses move their headquarters there or open a branch in the region. This attracts executives who want to work for these companies. It’s a ripple effect that makes local entrepreneurial growth the gift that keeps on giving. Said Daniel Isenberg, founding executive director of the Babson Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Platform, Associate at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and Adjunct Professor at Columbia Business School, “There is not one greatest impact these programs create; that’s what makes it so self-sustaining and a true ecosystem: it is self-organizing.”

Ultimately, local entrepreneurship has great potential as an economic development strategy for rural communities with or without stagnating or declining economies. A thriving local economy can substantially alter a city’s image, making it a more attractive place to work and to live. Local entrepreneurship also stimulates a sense of community. Think back to Main Street of yesteryear where neighbors and friends often see each other in the local grocery store or cafe. Small business owners all knew each other, often referring business to each. Local sports teams were sponsored by local business owners.

Similar to Main Street was the town square. Often Main Street ran into the town square but in some small cities, town sqaure was the town with businesses surrounding a common area for meetings, events, and relaxation in a park-like setting. It was the center of the community. A common place for all but one that was supported by local business owners, and entrepreneurs of the day. The same can hold true today. Actually, it must hold true for tomorrow.

Business owners and entrepreneurs are not the only players responsible for building up the economy. “If everyone doesn’t participate in the growth, then it will not spread and take root,” said Isenberg. “There is one entrepreneur on the stage but there is also a cast of characters, orchestra pit, and the audience. Without those ecosystem stakeholders, change will not be successful.”

Isenberg has witnessed firsthand how big influencers are coming around, realizing they must invest in growth for the greater benefit of not just business, but of the entire ecosystem of a region and of themselves. Change takes a village, but once it has taken a hold of a region, growth will be substantial and impactful.

Shared from CameoNetwork.org… A shift is needed to move from old strategies that may have worked for a different economy to a new innovative, creative and flexible method that will work for today’s economy – strategies that are based on creating jobs locally and based on building a Local Entrepreneurial Ecosystem.  This will create a strong and diversified infrastructure of many small, locally owned businesses that will be a major source of job creationeconomic stability, and community success in the new economic reality.

“Connected economies have higher median incomes, lower-income volatility, more high-wage service jobs, lower median ages, higher population growth, and greater educational attainment than their isolated peers.” – “The Challenges and Opportunities of Running a Small Business in Rural America,” John Lettieri, Economic Innovation Group

There’s a lot of work to do but I believe small town USA will be the driving force behind recovery for our great country. Resources must be committed to assisting current and aspiring entrepreneurs alike. A return to Main Street is inevitable. It’s already begun. But it must be stimulated further, proactively. The time is now.

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Today’s Entrepreneurs. Are you one of them?

The world around us has become so noisy that it’s easy to not hear opportunity knocking. In the past, opportunity presented itself in only a few ways… a job offer, a referral, an ad in the paper. Business was regimented… 9 to 5, straight forward processes, slow to change, staying inside the box.

Well, technology along with our lost feeling of security, job and other has provided us opportunity and reason that we must keep our eyes open, explore beyond our comfort zones and maintain an open mind to create things of value, to control our own destiny, to diversify our income, to take calculated risk, to think and act outside the box (of complacency, fear and procrastination).

We’re in an environment where the visionaries continue to create the playing field but it will only be doers who will win… the ones will act swiftly, yet deliberately – often throwing caution to the wind, caring little about what others think of them and their decisions, maintaining a laser-focus to succeed. Those doers are today’s entrepreneurs.

Have a great day. Make it happen. Make it count!