Spoon River College, Canton, IL
Rural entrepreneurship depends on many elements. Beyond the excitement that a few entrepreneurs can bring to a community, there also needs to be an emphasis on "educating” many other segments of a community. In my opinion, rural entrepreneurship is significantly enhanced when a wide range of community leaders and stakeholders become more informed, and also receive some "learning experiences” that broaden vision and understanding of change that can positively impact community and economic development. Let me give you one example.
The area served by the rural community college I work for struggles with entrepreneurship and economic development, as do many such areas. However, through some small informal discussions a strong dialogue is developing among key leaders and stakeholders in one county. The goal of the college is to provide increased courses and programs, activities and events that support entrepreneurship. The Vice President for Institutional Advancement and Community Outreach, Carol Davis, and I collaborate on efforts to achieve these goals.
A key element for us is educating the folks in our district that need to be supportive of entrepreneurship. However, they often are not aware of issues affecting entrepreneurship in rural areas, or have in mind that there are two new distinctive population segments to gear entrepreneurship to in rural areas: the young people and the retiring baby boomers.
After some informal visits with the county board chairperson, county manager, and others, an idea was developed for the college and county board to co-host a summit on community and economic development. This is not just strategic planning, but fits the goals of the county in that regard in getting representatives from throughout the county to realize the connections of community development (education, transportation, Internet access, leadership, health care, etc.) with economic development (with an emphasis on how to increase equalized property values without raising individual/current taxes) that all comes under an umbrella that blends social and business entrepreneurship. This approach combines ideas such as economic gardening with community development, and the blend of the two is critical in rural areas.
The focuses of the summit are on the changes that can occur, the planning and implementation of objectives and tactics that are doable, and reducing the human tendency toward "we have never done it that way” and "we have always done it this way.” Getting these stakeholders involved in setting measurable benchmarks and regular interval reporting on progress toward the benchmarks reinforces that there is action, there is change, and that overall goals are coming closer to being realized. It is just like doing a business plan in a comprehensive manner…each step being completed thoroughly, but also linking to the next step…so that the end product is the new effort of entrepreneurship: resolving issues, taking advantage of opportunities, and (hopefully) offering a positive influence of change for our communities economically and socially.