Written by Jen Horton, NACo Program Manager.
In The Great Reset, author Richard Florida argues that during an economic crisis or period of uncertainty, there are even more opportunities for new innovation, leading to new and creative ventures that can have lasting effects for a locality’s prosperity. This assumption has many implications for how county governments and elected officials pursue their own economic development strategies.
More and more, local leaders are realizing that solely focusing on traditional economic development strategies, such as incentive-based business recruitment, does not always assure intended results or provide a stable and dependable tax base for the future. Instead, county leaders are moving away from an ‘all your eggs in one basket’ economic development approach, to instead embrace more diversified development strategies to stay more competitive, relevant, and resilient in the face of local, state, and federal budget constraints and uncertainty.
Developing a stronger culture of entrepreneurship, especially in rural counties, is one very impactful way that county leaders can diversify and strengthen their local economy. However, building a stronger entrepreneurial community requires looking at local economic development in a different way, by creating development from within.
Here are just a few ways that county government and local leaders are doing this:
- Understanding local competitive advantage: County leaders must identify and build upon their existing and potential economic, social and natural assets to provide a framework and environment that is supportive of entrepreneurial development. This means taking a thorough assessment of the amenities your locality boasts, and then making them known and obvious to potential entrepreneurs, residents and businesses weighing the pros and cons of locating within your county line.
- Acknowledging human talent: No matter the size or economic outlook, communities have a range of entrepreneurial potential and talent. Simply acknowledging entrepreneurs’ vital role in the local economy can have a huge effect on changing your local business culture to prioritize entrepreneurship. One low-cost way to do this is by developing an awards program to acknowledge existing entrepreneurs and also encourage others to take advantage of new and creative ventures.
- Investing in an entrepreneurial infrastructure: The success of entrepreneurship, especially in rural areas, can be stifled tremendously by a lacking entrepreneurial infrastructure. This refers to the support networks, technical and educational assistance, business development resources, and access to the technology, talent and capital needed to sustain entrepreneurial endeavors.
- Keeping a focus on youth: Youth play a huge role in entrepreneurship development. Starting as early as kindergarten, children can start learning about entrepreneurship through education and training programs in school, after-school clubs and programs. County leaders can invest and build up programs and initiatives that encourage and provide youth with tools and resources to start their own businesses, maybe even within the community they grew up in.
Last week, NACo hosted the webinar, Creating Entrepreneurial Communities in Rural Places, to provide local leaders with strategies and resources for developing entrepreneurial communities in rural and small towns. The program presenters included:
- Don Macke, the Co-Director at the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, provided an overview of how to think about and approach entrepreneurship development.
- Steve Radley, President and CEO for NetWork Kansas, sharing his experience working on the state level to provide capacity building to local communities throughout the state of Kansas interested in growing their ‘entrepreneurial ecosystem’.
- Ines Polonius, Executive Director for alt.Consulting, overviewed her efforts running a non-profit organization in the Mississippi Delta to provide financial, educational and workforce training to build entrepreneurship capacity in rural, impoverished and minority communities.
To access the recording of NACo’s, Creating Entrepreneurial Communities in Rural Places Webinar, click here.
Here are just a few more resources to guide you in your local entrepreneurial development strategies:
The Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, a national, value-added resource for rural communities, regions, and states interested in building economic development frameworks around entrepreneurship.
Energizing an Entrepreneurial Economy: A Guide for County Leaders, developed by the RUPRI Center for Rural Entrepreneurship and NACo, provides an overview of the roles that county governments and local elected officials can play to encourage entrepreneurship development.