In late October, I attended the first annual “Grow Your Own” conference in Kearney. As a group, we explored entrepreneurship-based economic development models that are revitalizing many communities across the nation, the rural Midwest in particular. Traditional economic development methods are not as effective as they once were and are especially costly for rural communities. By fostering entrepreneurship, we will reap tremendous benefits as a community. In many ways, the presence of 25 small businesses with 1-3 employees is more desirable that one employer with 50-75 employees, many of whom will spend the majority of their earnings in the community from which they commute. The presence of vibrant small businesses contributes to the overall quality of life for residents. They also are generally engaged and invested in their community. A local economy with a vibrant and growing crop of small businesses paired with a growing industrial sector makes for a more resilient and sustainable economy. This can come in handy assuming one day our country will face another financial crisis similar to that which we saw in the last decade.
Okay, simple enough. But what does fostering entrepreneurship look like? For starters, let’s look our rural counterparts to see what policies and programs have worked elsewhere. Phillips County Kansas has paved the way for strong entrepreneurship-based business growth in their area. For example, they have developed a local grant program that provides cost sharing for helping existing businesses grow and to help create new businesses. It helps cost share on projects on building structure improvement, enhancement or expansion, needed equipment, and signage. The program requires matching funds and a business plan from the applicant. If REDC were to craft a similar program in Ravenna with LB840 and private funds, it would be very similar to the Business Exterior Enhancement Program (BEEP) that we implemented earlier this year. BEEP is a matching grant offered by REDC to building owners who wish to dress up their façade. Both K&B Auto and Grand View Inn utilized BEEP to enhance their storefronts and the results look great. Learning about Phillips County’s economic development program has reassured me that REDC is heading in the right direction in developing programs to help boost the local economy, spur local investment, and create jobs.