They say it takes a village, and this is especially true when startup ventures are looking for the perfect location. The presence of entrepreneurs in communities helps bring prosperity and a progressive spirit to those locations; startups drive local economies, promote job growth, and help carve an identity for a city or town. Conversely, many communities provide incentives and programs to attract and support entrepreneurial ventures that make the area thrive. Communities and companies rely on each other for growth.
Benefits for Local Communities
Attracting entrepreneurs to a city is an important part of not only job growth for the community, but also of the community’s personality as well. Entrepreneurs are smart investors, and they realize the benefits of supporting and investing in their own communities. But there are three specific reasons you should work to build an entrepreneurial community:
- Employment and Opportunity: Cities are places where people live, work, and play. Cities need opportunities for employment so citizens can afford to enjoy the metropolitan lifestyle. Harvard Business School professor Howard Stevenson defined entrepreneurship as “the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.” Prosperous cities work to understand this dynamic, since entrepreneurs will establish their businesses in locales that support business growth. The jobs created by entrepreneurs not only support current citizens’ lifestyles, but they also make specific cities more attractive for future businesses to establish themselves in that location.
- Tax Income: Communities require governance to provide a structured environment. The infrastructure of successful cities would not exist without money coming into local economies from the sale of products or services. The necessary public works and amenities that sustain a city depend on businesses, as well as resident taxes and purchases.
- Identity and Character: Entrepreneurs help create the unique character of a community. This character enhances the sense of place and belonging that adds to the overall quality of life. Most entrepreneurs start businesses where they live, which allows companies to develop deeper connections to the community. Apple, Google, Dell, and HP started as entrepreneurial companies that were identified with, and formed a strong relationship with, their surrounding communities.
Building an entrepreneurial community requires an understanding that entrepreneurs usually launch multiple ventures, look to get community involvement in their product launches, and bring fresh ideas from other locations. Many times, these founders need more support than an established organization would, and communities should work toward becoming champions of entrepreneurs’ growth efforts. Here are a few ways to support those entrepreneurs currently in your community:
- Recognition and Shared Goals: Already-established entrepreneurs in the community can greatly help city organizations focus on effective economic development, prioritizing incentives, and planning strategies to encourage business growth. The presence of colleges or universities can also be a great channel for enticing businesses to launch or expand in a community. A diverse population of students, professors, visitors, and residents allows for more variety in business ventures.
- Community Programs: Several communities around the nation continually find successful ways to encourage local entrepreneurs. In the 1980s, the city of Littleton, Colo., decided to focus on homegrown businesses as a community growth strategy. They established “economic gardening,” which focused on bringing sophisticated, corporate-level tools like database research, geographic information systems, search engine optimization, and social network mapping to small businesses within Littleton. This nurturing environment proved successful and serves as a model for similar communities throughout the nation.
Programs can be established through the collaborative efforts of local chambers of commerce, city finance planning committees, and involved citizens; together, they can fund grants for small businesses and provide marketing opportunities through city publications and media outlets. The establishment of places to meet and exchange ideas with like-minded entrepreneurs also encourages would-be entrepreneurs to take the first step toward establishing their own businesses. Our own Small Business Technology Development Center in Columbia, Mo., working in partnership with REDI (Regional Economic Development, Inc., our local economic development program), is supporting entrepreneurs across mid-Missouri in order to create an engaged community.
- Community Events: Communities that encourage networking, collaboration, startup weekends, and professional conferences benefit greatly from these events. The more excitement that’s generated, the better the chances of bringing more individuals to the world of entrepreneurship. The community of Omaha, Neb., has successfully partnered with Silicon Prairie News to create an exciting conference, “Big Omaha,” which brings entrepreneurs and innovators together. Thinc Iowa is a similar conference, also partially organized by Silicon Prairie News, which takes place in Des Moines.
Communities that work to support their local entrepreneurs and draw businesses to their locations benefit from the job growth and the formation of a unique and promising identity. Entrepreneurs bring opportunity and prosperity through their successful ventures, and they can use that success to boost the surrounding community in a variety of ways. By implementing strategies and programs to support local entrepreneurs, communities show their dedication to the growth of their cities and their citizens.
Mike Brooks is President of REDI (Regional Economic Development, Inc.) in Columbia, Mo. REDI promotes positive economic expansion and provides increased economic opportunities in the Columbia area, assisting entrepreneurs, developing businesses, and companies relocating. As president, Mike led REDI in creating a supportive ecosystem for entrepreneurship and business growth in Columbia. Mike welcomes anyone to reach out to him on LinkedIn or REDI at columbiaredi.com.
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