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January 18, 2017

At an economic development conference a few years back, a speaker was highlighting the need for communities and business people to fuse the concepts of “dreaming” and “implementation”.  A quote flashed on big screen behind the presenter, declaring- “Entrepreneur- A French word meaning, has ideas and actually does them.”  The crowd laughed, but the discussion among attendees after the presentation highlighted the need for entrepreneurial mind sets in more than just business.

Entrepreneurs spot opportunities and convert those opportunities into businesses, events, developments and solutions to problems.  They move quickly to implement new ideas and create unique community elements.  Because businesses, events or solutions to issues implemented by entrepreneurs are “one of a kind”, they draw people into an area and create community pride.

So, why the resistance to entrepreneurship?

Smaller, rural communities seem to crave the known commodity of branded business types.  Citizens tend to look at other communities within driving distance to say “why can’t we be more like them”, and bureaucratic entities encourage people to look backwards in time to nostalgically embrace how things used to be instead of intersecting with emerging trends and demographic shifts.  Training programs struggle to teach local citizens skill sets associated with creating things that don’t currently exist.

But, because of our smaller relative size, do rural communities have a choice beyond embracing an entrepreneurial focus?  Recent economic reports indicate that large chain retailers are finding it increasingly difficult to compete against on-line competition.  Some economists indicate that increases in automation and other influences will result in roughly half of all jobs residing in entrepreneurial businesses by 2040.  Policy decisions in Kansas have resulted in population loss, and new ideas are needed.  Entrepreneurial businesses tend to donate a higher percentage of sales to local charities, and are more likely to use local professional services, like attorneys, banks, accountants and media.

To use a sports analogy, communities are like basketball players.  Big communities can lumber down the court and throw their weight around because of their relative size.  Smaller communities must be fast, opportunistic and willing to take some outside shots.  Entrepreneurs can spot opportunities, move quickly to capitalize and create valuable changes that result in big community gains.

So, what can we do as rural communities to emphasize entrepreneurship?  It starts with   recognizing that entrepreneurs aren’t found only in business. They are found throughout various segments of our community. Supporting these local entrepreneurs with our time, talent and treasure is a way to advance Emporia towards an entrepreneurial mind set.  We vote for entrepreneurs with the dollars we spend, our advocacy and our focus.  We need to support the development of places that encourage entrepreneurs to exist in close proximity to other entrepreneurs so they can support each other.  We need to encourage entrepreneurial educational practices that emphasize team building, resource attainment and realistic opportunism.  In short, we need to build an entrepreneurial culture.

Over the past several years, we’ve seen Emporia pull in more outside dollars.  We’ve grown jobs in some pretty unique business types and we have established some internationally acclaimed events due to entrepreneurship.  Because we are surrounded by much larger communities that already have established chains and homogenous activities, our best chance to compete is through the unique opportunities that entrepreneurs provide.

So, let’s go beyond celebrating entrepreneurs and their can do attitudes this year.  Lets recognize the critical role they play in creating a successful Emporia, and dedicate the resources, support and advocacy our locally owned businesses need to grow a better community all year long.

I’m Casey Woods, and that’s something to think about…