Wouldn't it be great if someone decided to bring a business to the area that employed 200 people at wages that support a family? That'd sure be fantastic. That's also extremely unlikely. What's much more likely is that in our community right now is someone with an idea that is just a thought but could bloom into an amazing business if given the opportunity and support to grow.
The future of economic development is less about large companies setting up shop in communities and more about growing from within. But growing from within doesn't happen on its own. Like most successful things, it takes lots of work. In the case of supporting entrepreneurs, it takes an entire community. Most entrepreneurs end up in a community they have ties to or that meets their infrastructure needs. For Alpena and surrounding areas that generally means they have family here, or a cottage they have been coming to since they were little, or some other unique tie to the area. If that's true, then that means you might know someone with an idea for a great business. You can help them develop its potential.
Entrepreneurs need resources to start a business. They may need funding, or a facility. They may need adequate access to broadband capabilities or they may require road improvements to better move their product. Like most places, our region is continuously working on developing these resources, but there is something else an entrepreneur needs. It's the support of a community that puts their arms around an entrepreneur. You have probably heard different statistics about business startups. Maybe you have heard that somewhere around 2/3 of startups fail in the first year. You may have heard that more than 85 percent of businesses won't make it past the first three years. Or maybe you heard that successful entrepreneurs try, on average, five businesses before one works. Whatever statistics you may have heard, they all tell the same story. Starting a business is not easy. Making it successful is even more challenging.
Let's not add to the challenge of starting a business. Instead, let's encourage creative thinking and new ideas. We can make a greater effort to be a supportive community for entrepreneurs. I don't mean just shopping locally. That's important but it's only one piece of the bigger picture. I'm talking about something more than that; the need to be more tolerant, supportive and encouraging of new ideas. If the statistics are accurate about starting a new business, then there is a great probability of a few failed attempts before a success. It's no secret that no one likes to fail. But there are people out there willing to take a risk if they are encouraged to do so, and if they feel they will be supported and helped back up again. It's a lot easier to take a risk in a community that embraces the entrepreneur spirit.
So why do I bring this up? Is Alpena anti-entrepreneur? I don't think so. But I do think we can do much better in creating a supportive climate for entrepreneurs. Our youth might not be encouraged to take the entrepreneur route in school as the pressure to attend college is steadily increasing (This is not a negative comment about college. Higher education is great and necessary but is it right for everyone?) There are places other than school we can encourage entrepreneurship - home and community. This doesn't only apply to youth, either. Most adults have great ideas! You probably have a few business ideas yourself. Are we encouraging each other to consider developing a great idea into something more? If someone has an idea, are they afraid to take a chance in this community? Could greater support from their friends, family and even strangers help them give it a try? You bet!
Remember, you may know the person with the next big idea. You may be the person with the next successful business. The next great idea could grow into a business with 10 or 20 or 100 jobs and support as many families. If you have a great idea, know you have at least one supporter. I'd help nurture your idea and I'm sure others are willing to as well, but we need to make it known and then stand behind that commitment. We need to grow our own entrepreneurs. No one else will do it for us. Let's put our arms around entrepreneurs and help them succeed.
Jackie Krawczak is the executive director of the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce. Her column runs bi-weekly on Tuesday.