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January 17, 2017

I’m Ed Bashaw, an Emporia newcomer.  My wife Sara and I moved here in June of 2016 as I came to town to become Dean of the School of Business at Emporia State University.

This has been a great move for us on at least two fronts.  First, Emporia and ESU form the best combination of university and community relationships that I’ve ever experienced.  It is clear to me that both “Town” and “Gown” leaders understand the importance each other plays in building a more thriving community and a more thriving university.  Second, we’ve found Emporia to be a great place to live!  Emporians have been extremely welcoming to us.  We’ve found “Midwestern Hospitality” exceeds “Southern Hospitality” – and I’m a Southerner! 

Because of this hospitality, we’ve been included in many circles.  A good example of this is that I was asked to join Emporians for Growth, the community group advocating for extending the half-cent sales tax for Emporia economic development in last November’s elections.  Emporians overwhelmingly approved the ballot measure.  No doubt many voters recognized the effectiveness of this fund in helping attract new companies and new jobs to Emporia. 

The importance of job growth to our community is clear.  It is well-documented that thriving communities are able to attract new companies from established industries that create more jobs.  They also attract entrepreneurs willing to take risks to start up new enterprises that create new jobs when they are successful. 

Establishing incentives for small businesses, and the entrepreneurs who found and run them, are critical to our community.  The U.S. Census Bureau reports that small businesses in the U.S. account for nearly two/thirds of all private sector jobs.  The creation of new businesses by entrepreneurs is the life-blood of our local economy.  This is a critical area where the interests of Emporia and ESU overlap and where we need Town and Gown leadership.

The School of Business is moving towards a greater emphasis on entrepreneurship. The goal is to create entrepreneurs who stay in Kansas, but more importantly, stay in Emporia!  The popularity of our Elevator Challenge and the Entrepreneurial Challenge (with Flint Hills Technical College) along with my interactions with students lead me to believe the desire to launch startups is strong among ESU students.  

Why don’t more ESU students become entrepreneurs right out of school?  While Emporia State graduates leave school with the least amount of student debt among KBOR schools, they still accumulate just over $20,000 of debt.  And, they must begin making loan payments six months after graduation.  This keeps many would be entrepreneurs on the sideline as they cannot afford to make loan payments and go without a paycheck as they launch their startup. 

One of my goals this year is to address this situation by developing a proposal where a very modest amount of the economic development resources created from the successful sales tax extension vote are made available as incentives for business startups founded in Emporia.  This can be important to new ESU alums with a business startup idea and to Emporia’s economic future.  

And I hope you think that this idea is something to think about!