Creating a Culture for Entrepreneurs
2011-2012 RuralVoices Winner
Creating a culture for entrepreneurs is vital to the health of rural communities. In order for communities to thrive, they need to have a solid foundation of business to attract and retain people in the community. The businesses in a community serve to create jobs, attract residents, and increase the economic base of the community by drawing regional shoppers. Growth in businesses is a core component of population growth in an area.
To understand what “creating a culture for entrepreneurs” means, the topic was analyzed from three points of view. First, what does the current research have to say about entrepreneurism in rural communities. Second, local business owners were interviewed on the right environment to foster development of new businesses and business ideas. Last, all of this information was synthesized into a look at a single city, Greensburg, and how they have come back from total devastation by creating a culture for entrepreneurs.
Interest in entrepreneurism has grown because traditional approaches in retaining people and attracting new residents are not working according to the Rural Policy Research Institute website (http://www.rupri.org/entrepreneurship.php). Based on their research small businesses are well suited to rural economies.
What does it mean to be an entrepreneur? An entrepreneur develops an idea, takes action and creates a business that turns the idea into reality. This requires bringing together all the necessary resources to establish and sustain the business.
The Center for Rural Entrepreneurship submitted a report to the W.K Kellogg Foundation in 2003 entitled, “Mapping Rural Entrepreneurship”. The study concluded a
new “framework” was needed to create a culture that supports entrepreneurial development. The four key principles are:
Focus on the entrepreneur
Focus on the region
Focus on the community
Focus on continuous learning
To supplement this national research, six local business owners were interviewed. Business owners were asked what they thought it took to create the right environment to foster development of new businesses and business ideas; what are the greatest challenges as a business owner; and what advice they would offer to someone considering starting a new business in a small town. The results of these questions will be integrated into analysis of the new “framework” for entrepreneurism proposed by the Rural Center for Entrepreneurship.
The first element of creating a culture for entrepreneurism is to focus on development on entrepreneurial skills. This includes all aspects of business management from how to start a business to running the business.
Locally, business owners identified two key challenges in this area. The first challenge is how to expand from running everything yourself to hiring employees. Several reported difficulty in finding qualified workers. Every business wants the most qualified and best people working for them. They need employees that are reliable and willing to go above and beyond for their customers. In small towns, the number of qualified people to choose from is more limited.
Another challenge local business owner’s face is having the access to sufficient capital. Six out of six business owners interviewed stated that having enough capital was one of the greatest challenges of a business owner.
To improve the culture for entrepreneurism in this area, entrepreneurial classes or opportunities should start in High School, e.g., Junior Achievement. Second, programs that would help improve the overall skill level of the job candidate pool would help business growth. An example of this is general customer service training. In a rural area, service is the number one reason that people choose local businesses over the big box stores. Other fundamental training programs might focus on quality. In some communities, training grants have been provided as an incentive for businesses to add staff locally.
A second key to creating a culture of entrepreneurism is regional cooperation. Entrepreneurs at all levels need to consider the impact of their actions at regional levels. This means everyone is working together toward a goal of building the regional economy. As the region succeeds, the individual business will also benefit.
According to a local business owners, you need to look at your business market regionally and identify how you can attract people from other towns. The goal is to have a mix of business in the region that keeps shopper dollars in the rural economy instead of going to metro areas.
Nearly all business owners interviewed talked about the importance of offering something no one else has. Whether the business was a service business or direct retail product, the business owners agreed it was important to find a niche. If you find a
product that will draw people from other areas, your business is successful and you build the business foundation of the region.
The third key to creating a culture for entrepreneurism is focusing on community. This means building on community assets. A community needs to have a good base and foundation for business. For example, the introduction of rural broadband in North Central Kansas connected rural areas and improved the technology infrastructure.
Local business owners were asked, “What do you think it takes to create the right environment to foster development of new businesses and business ideas?” Business owners said that communities need to be open- minded, and involved. Communities also need to be united and work together. A good example of this is business owners working together to try new community market ideas such as “Shop Beloit” or the Bridal Fair.
The fourth key to creating an entrepreneurial culture is focus on continuous learning. Businesses need ways to connect with each other. The benefit of this is building peer relationships and support. It takes a lot of people working together with a positive attitude to have a successful business, it can’t be done alone.
In local interviews, one business owner effectively captured this point. She said that you have to connect with other people to promote yourself. However, all feedback and sharing may not be positive; you also have to be thick-skinned and able to stand up for yourself.
A great example of a town that followed the “Map to Rural Entrepreneurship” is Greensburg, Kansas. Before the tornado the town had 1500 people. After the tornado only about half the people returned. Still, they have rebounded and have rebuilt most of
the businesses. Greensburg recognized if they were going to get people back they needed an economic base, places for people to work, homes for people to live in and good schools.
They achieved their success by leveraging grants and other financial aid to not only rebuild, but also carve out a niche for the community. Through innovation, they identified new businesses that would meet resident needs and attract people outside the area. Because it was a national disaster, there was a lot of support for the community to help in redevelopment.
One of the key things the tornado did was cause the three main towns in the county, Haviland, Mullinville, and Greensburg, to work together. This allowed school consolidation and provided state-of-the-art educational services.
Greensburg could have given up; instead they focused on the community and came up with a unique theme of going green to unite the town. Greensburg has established itself as a regional and international center on green technology. They have leveraged their expertise and business model to create relationships with green organizations, vendors, and individuals with a high priority on the environment. As a result, new business opportunities continue to develop which feed tourism and support the community.
In conclusion, local business owners and the research by the Rural Center for Entrepreneurship were in agreement. Whether or not this map was used by Greensburg, the rebuilding of this community did incorporate these same elements. The key points in the “Map for Rural Entrepreneurship” create a good framework for evaluating the culture that is present in a community to foster entrepreneurism.
Thompson Tires—Mike Thompson
The Closet—Michelle Harr
S&S Drug—Heather Johnson
Accents 4 You— Jodi Mosher
The Soda Fountain— Heather Hartman
Thummel Real Estate—Verlin Kolman
http://www.energizingentrepreneurs.org/site/images/research/erpr/srr/srr3.pdf (Mapping Rural Entrepreneurship by the Corporation for Enterprise Development)