Have you heard the story of Auntie Anne's Pretzels? I saw a segment about this company on TV last week and it got me thinking about local unemployment. I've heard many a local resident complain about the lack of jobs in the area. I don't necessarily disagree however, the blame is usually placed on the economy, our rural location, lack of manufacturing, and just about everything except for one's own level of ambition. When I heard the story of Auntie Anne's I was infused with the belief that anything is possible.
If you've ever been to a large airport or food court in a shopping mall you've undoubtedly passed an Auntie Anne's. You really can't miss them. Their delicious smell draws you in. What may seem like another generic convenience food franchise has a very interesting back story; a story of inspiration and possibility.
Anne and Jonas Beiler wanted to offer free counseling services to their community. Free services weren't going to pay the bills so they purchased a Pennsylvania farmer's market pretzel stand to provide income for their passion. Adding to the complexity of the story is that fact that Anne was raised Amish.
There are a few things you don't think of when you think of corporate franchise; among them are farmers markets, rural Pennsylvania, and the Amish - a community known for its insulation against the corporate world. That's why this story is so amazing. Because they cared about their product, and because they cared about their customers, and because they believed in what they where doing the business grew exponentially. The Beilers perfected their pretzel recipe and since 1988 have grown to operate in more than 1,000 locations, 45 states, and 22 countries. Every two days they make 500,000 pretzels. All of this from the roots of a farmer's market. And yes, as a result of the success of their company they were able to offer the counseling services they set out to provide.
They didn't set out to create a pretzel kingdom nor did they know how to grow a farmers market stand into a worldwide franchise. They needed an income, Anne had a killer pretzel recipe and most importantly, they cared and they didn't give up.
It discourages me to hear of so many people waiting for someone else to take care of them. Waiting for an employer to present them with a job opening; waiting for the government to step in and offer assistance; waiting for someone else to provide an answer. Very few people these days create their own opportunity. Most seem to think it isn't an option or it will be too hard. From my perspective, the reality is that we where all put on this earth with special talents and skills. We can be proactive and put these talents and skills to use and give something back to our world, or we can be reactive and wait for someone else to tell us what to do and not really give much of anything back to the world. The first offers endless prosperity and fulfillment, the later leads to an incomplete existence.
Alpena was built on a foundation of entrepreneurs and proactive pioneers who believed that just because something didn't currently exist didn't mean they couldn't create it. Starting a business is incredibly easy these days and the college offers many services to help you get started. If you do any reading on the history of major corporations you'll notice that many of them started as a part-time passion or wild idea spawned from a "What if?" What if my passion could also be my profession? What if my crazy idea is so crazy it just might be a success? Many of these ideas where turned into part-time business that grew and grew and allowed the owners to quit previous unfulfilling jobs and/or live the life they had always dreamt of.
It's true the economy has been in a slump but crossing fingers and hoping for someone else to fix things isn't doing any of us any favors. America is the Land of Opportunity. The opportunity is still here, it wasn't stripped away with the economy's failure. The only thing that was stripped away was the ability for some of us to believe that we are responsible for our own outcomes.
The world needs fewer people sitting around thinking about what the world needs and more people following their passion and getting back to good old-fashioned hard work and entrepreneurship. This is America, anything is possible.
Mary Beth Stutzman's Inspiring A-Town column runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays.