BY DEB MARKLEY, CO-FOUNDER, CENTER FOR RURAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP & SENIOR VP, LOCUS IMPACT INVESTING
I’ve had the great opportunity to work in rural communities all across the country, including here in West Virginia. In every place – hidden and right there on Main Street – I’ve met amazing entrepreneurs who are committed to building their businesses and wealth for their communities. What a wonderful asset!
Often, though, these great small business folks are working without much recognition – or support – from the community. Economic development efforts are directed elsewhere, to the dream of attracting a new plant.
What would happen if we focused time and energy on the real assets in our communities – the entrepreneurs who are there right now and the local people with great ideas and entrepreneurial energy to build something for the future?
At the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, we’ve spent years working with and learning from rural communities that are focused on entrepreneurial development – that have committed to building a strong “entrepreneurial ecosystem”. These entrepreneurial communities inform the work we do, and the way we do it.
Now we are bringing our Entrepreneurial Communities work to West Virginia, in partnership with The Hub. For about a year, Hub coaches, with Center support, have been working in Boone, Lincoln, Taylor and Wyoming counties to engage with community teams as they identify, reach out to and support their entrepreneurs.
Imagine the difference it would make if you reached out to and learned a few years in advance that a Main Street entrepreneur was close to retirement. It might give your community the time to identify a young person with an interest in the business and help with a transition, before the “Closed” sign goes up on the front door. Or what if a visit to a home-based artisan uncovered a real interest in moving into a retail space so she could reach more tourists traveling through your town? Maybe you’d be celebrating a new business on Main Street – and another draw for tourists – instead of dealing with an empty storefront.
These are the kinds of victories that, one by one, can change a community’s future. We believe that, because we’ve seen it happen!
Our work in West Virginia is part of a three-state effort to build stronger entrepreneurial communities. We are also working in partnership with Rural Action in Appalachian Ohio and with the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky and Brushy Fork Institute in Appalachian Kentucky.
We are learning with each other, sharing what’s working in our communities here and in other parts of the U.S. We plan to feature those stories as part of a newsletter – with the hope that they’ll provide inspiration for action in your communities and demonstrate that energizing entrepreneurial communities is a pathway to prosperity.