What is an entrepreneurial community?

An entrepreneurial community is one that is developed to cultivate and support entrepreneurs within a well-defined geographic area, typically focused on the main thoroughfare or center of town, or within the center of a larger geographic area. The community definition is not much different than that of a residential area except it’s centered around commerce and local businesses.

Master planned developments in relative proximity to a city with significant population could be considered entrepreneurial communities as can small rural towns. College towns and areas built around military bases would fit the bill. Towns centered around beaches and ski resort areas, as well.

In order for an entrepreneurial community to thrive and grow, there must be local resources for entrepreneurs including banks and local professional services providers. The local government must be pro-business and not look to stall growth. There must also be an aggressive residential development plan with the entrepreneurial community helping to attract families to the area. The same is true to attract companies and startups alike.

Essentially, the community should work to support itself through community loyalty. That said, local businesses must give back to the community while also interacting with local residents and businesses for common goals.

In 1978, my then new wife, Laureen and I left Staten Island, New York to move to Boerne, Texas not only to be close to her family who had retired there, but to get away from NYC and find an area where we would feel comfortable raising children. The population of Greater New York City was approximately 9 million at the time. Boerne’s population was several thousand if the immediate areas outside the city limits were also taken into consideration.

It was in Boerne where I realized an entrepreneurial community. It was a quintessential small town that truly was built upon community. Of course, there was Main Street running right through the center of town with several major cross-streets intersecting Main Street at various points along the 2–3-mile stretch.

The entrepreneurial community fed off each other with business owners doing business with fellow business owners. Their kids went to school with each other until such time when many of them entered the family business, and the cycle continued. Community activities such as the two major fairs in the area saw local business owners volunteering and sponsoring the events. Truly, everyone knew each other’s name.

Unfortunately, we witnessed the entrepreneurial community breaking down when Walmart opened on the end of town. A major grocery chain, HEB settled in, as well. Their presence created a major shift on Main Street leaving the far end of town somewhat of a ghost town with shuttered stores and an empty shopping center. The local banks were gone as larger banks took over.

At some point as I was looking back, I was wondering if were possible for community entrepreneurs to survive after the arrival of big box retailers, etc.? After all, Main Street in Boerne quickly saw the old businesses, ones that had been there for 20-40 years or more close their doors for good. To me, it was very sad.

Ultimately, Boerne rebounded, and then some as San Antonio grew closer. Boerne became a very desirable bedroom community and quite frankly, is a prime area to raise a family in the Texas Hill Country. However, how many small towns don’t rebound? I was now thinking, how could these small towns survive? What would have had to happen for them to survive?

I recall back in the ’80s the big thing in California and Arizona were Auto Malls. Well, they really weren’t malls, just auto repair centers consisting of multiple auto-related repair shops surrounding a restaurant and children’s play area. The premise was to have a customer bring his or her car or truck to the center and essentially have it move from one business to another for repairs and maintenance while grabbing a meal and letting the kids play while their vehicle was being tended to.

It seemed like a great idea except it failed, and miserably. Why? There was no community within the Auto Mall. Instead, there was often competing businesses and cut-throat competition. Instead of attracting customers to the Auto Mall, each business did their own thing. It was a huge, missed opportunity. In no time at all, the Auto Malls became nothing more than u-shaped shopping centers with the same businesses as any other shopping center.

Thinking back to Boerne, marketing as a community had withered away over time. But in my opinion, Walmart was more the nail in the coffin as opposed to being the driving force. To me, the driving force was the younger generation starting to look outside Boerne to settle down and raise families. People were leaving and there wasn’t much to attract new ones.

So, what enabled Boerne to recover? Over time, Main Street became a mecca for antique stores and gift shops. Cafes and restaurants soon followed. But what made it flourish was becoming known again as a community. Visitors came to town not so much for a particular business, but for the town. Fredericksburg, Texas experienced the same when wineries started opening, ultimately attracting visitors and then families to take up residence. Of late, Johnson City, Texas is following suit.

In all the examples above, key was the local government and entrepreneurs focusing on the community more than business just for the sake of business. These towns have become hotbeds for entrepreneurship and especially as the entrepreneurs decided to live locally and become part of the community.

If you were to look back in time, similar things happened around college towns and in towns with a military base close by. One can’t help looking at the booming College Station market. Home to Texas A&M University, this once sleepy stop on the local railroad has become even more of a community than for those just interested in the University. Although, there are the school’s maroon & white colors everywhere, the city and neighboring Bryan, Texas are becoming much more than college towns.

Now, add the pandemic to the equation. More and more workers were homebound on one Zoom call after another. Without needing to go to the office, many families started to move out of the big cities and immediate suburbs and into a further ring of outer suburbs and small towns. Community entrepreneurship is happening as we speak as pockets of communities have begun to spring up and small towns are bustling once again.

It’s been said repeatedly that entrepreneurship will drive our nation’s recovery. Well, I believe that it will be mostly fueled by entrepreneurial communities consisting of a mix of seasoned entrepreneurs leaving the larger cities coupled with families entering the world of entrepreneurship. Mom & Pop operations, whether as independent businesses or as franchises will create a foundation of growth within these areas.

The business owners will drive the notion of community and just like in Boerne, Texas when we moved there in the late 70s, community will come together on Friday nights to support the local high school team, even if they don’t have kids going to the school. That just doesn’t happen in the big cities. Communities and especially, entrepreneurial communities will be our country’s driving force.