#552 – 5 Ingredients for Building Rural Economies

Posted on | The Agurban

We are pleased to share a recent article by our friend Maury Forman that looks at ways to help your community’s startups and entrepreneurs build the local economy.

5 Ingredients for Building Rural Economies

A program in Washington State is finding ways to ease the way for local entrepreneurs and startups.
By: Maury Forman, September 22, 2015

For decades, most rural economic-development efforts have focused largely on hitting that ever-elusive home run: landing the big corporate relocation or expansion. But as any economic-development professional knows, this can be a labor- and resource-intensive process with no guarantee of a solid return on investment.

In early 2012, Washington state’s Department of Commerce embarked on a new rural strategy, called Startup Washington, that focuses on building local economies organically by serving the needs of community-based startups and entrepreneurs. The goal was for rural areas to place an emphasis on “create, not relocate” and increase the number of services available to those wanting to start or grow a business.

Success of this strategy is measured not only by the number of startups created and the number of events and services provided but also by the change of local economic-development focus from recruitment to startups and existing businesses.

The Startup Washington strategy is based on five services that entrepreneurs and small businesses consider essential to their success: access to capital; networking; mentorship; technical assistance; and education and training. Here’s how the program approaches each of these services:

Access to capital: It can be a challenge for small businesses to find the capital need to grow and expand. To fill this gap, the state Department of Commerce, in partnership with the Seattle-based Community Sourced Capital, created Fund Local. It’s an innovative public-private partnership that allows companies to crowdsource needed funds from local investors, who are known as “squareholders.”

Networking: Each November, Commerce coordinates events statewide during the Kauffman Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurship Week, which brings students, individuals, business leaders, educators, investors and entrepreneurs together to hear new ideas, conduct business-plan competitions and, most importantly, network with one another. Commerce also has developed an online mapping tool of accelerators, incubators, “maker spaces” and co-working places as well as lists of local “angel investors” and venture capitalists to assist entrepreneurs in networking with their peers.

Mentoring: Learning from others is essential to rapid growth and prototyping. The state’s economic-development network uses a two-pronged approach to mentoring. The first is a mentors’ corner that exposes entrepreneurs and small businesses electronically to advice and best practices via business experts who have “been there, done that” in their careers. The second strategy is to utilize mentors at the community level, tapping into the wealth of knowledge in rural communities. These business professionals can help entrepreneurs and startups move more quickly to the next stage while avoiding some of the common pitfalls associated with growth and expansion.

Education and training: Startup Washington also supports a regional education ecosystem for rural communities. Occurring at the local level, the effort is driven by partnerships with community colleges, nonprofit organizations, local economic-development leaders and private industry.

Technical assistance: Startup Washington’s website includes how-to articles, grant opportunities, book reviews, connections to work spaces and investors, and links to online resources, as well as two new publications targeted to startups and small businesses, the Washington “Small Business Playbook” and “When Disaster Strikes: a Crisis Planner for Small Businesses.”

All of these services are crucial to encouraging entrepreneurship. Currently there are 24 million Americans engaged in startup business activity. Creating organic growth at the local level with a state-supported entrepreneurship program is a long-term strategy that makes the best use of finite resources.