Over the past 20 years, I have worked to increase opportunities for entrepreneurs to succeed in rural Ohio, specifically, Appalachia. In fact, many funders like the Appalachian Regional Commission, USDA Rural Development, the Economic Development Administration invest in programs intended to foster new economic realities based on starting businesses.
The LIGHTS staff puts its energies into supporting new businesses not because we see a shiny new object, but because we believe in the power of what it can do in our region’s economy. Because we live and do our work in this area, we see everyday how communities become entrepreneurial in spite of having inadequate resources.
- Economic Resiliency. Entrepreneurs diversify the economy through their new ideas and innovation creating products and industries that never existed or finding innovative ways to solve old issues. Economies built on one industry or one company rarely survive downturns or at least rarely return to their former glory. Business incubati
on programs like the Innovation Center and the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet) assist a myriad of industries.
- Reinvestment. Entrepreneurs typically reinvest in their communities by buying local products, expanding into vacant real estate, and bringing forward new ways to leverage resources for other entrepreneurs. A great example is the Tri-State Angel Investment Group composed primarily of other business owners who want to grow their local economies.
- Employment. Without a doubt, new ventures create more jobs across the country than existing businesses. A growing startup, RXQ Compounding, hired several people over the last few years and plans to employ over 100 people within the next three years in Albany, Ohio.
- Community Support. Entrepreneurs are typically grounded in their communities. Since they live where they run the company, they want a better place for their families and their employees. I learned a long time ago about the generosity of local entrepreneurs when selling High School Yearbook Ads as a Junior at Waterford High. Businesses across the region gave money to support not only a little bit of advertising, but most importantly, the education of students like me who learned that if we wanted something, we needed to ask. More recently, I see companies located at The Epicenter in Marietta providing internship and other learning opportunities to students.
- Instilling pride. Residents want to have something to believe in and something to be proud of. When someone sees a product made in their own community, they feel proud to buy it, and they preach to anyone who will listen. A local veteran created Doc Spartan in Portsmouth, Ohio and won funding from the hit-television show Shark Tank. If being from the area isn’t enough to make you want to buy the product, perhaps, the idea of a veteran-owned business would. Both Burley Clay and Austin Molnar USA serve as excellent examples of locally made products that should make us all proud.
Communities across Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky continue to invest in entrepreneurship as a strategy for economic development. Is it any wonder with all of these benefits why others wouldn’t follow suit?