• by Kirk Gaw

Finding Entrepreneurship In Walkerton

While rural communities need entrepreneurs in order to revitalize their economies, entrepreneurs are dependent on the community for access to capital and other professional services. Entrepreneurs and communities are interdependent; the challenge for both lies in their ability to recognize the other's unique needs.

This article seeks to answer some basic questions about entrepreneurship in Walkerton. Why is entrepreneurship an attractive development strategy in Walkerton? What do entrepreneurs and communities need from each other? And what are the challenges that entrepreneurs face?

Downtown Walkerton - Photo by Joe Szady

It is important to remember that rural communities are diverse, and a one-size-fits-all approach to rural entrepreneurship will not work. Walkerton needs to develop its own specific strategies for encouraging entrepreneurial success. This article is an attempt to provide a framework for devising such strategies.

Simply put, downtown Walkerton is struggling. The changes over time is well known. Many area communities have seen industries such as agriculture, metal forging, and food processing stagnate or decline, and the resulting economic downturns have led to "brain drain." Talented young residents have left rural areas in search of better economic opportunities, which presents unique challenges to companies that rely on a highly skilled workforce. The result is that in the 1990s, only 4 out of 10 rural counties kept up with the positive national economic trends.

As the state's economies change, new strategies for sustaining rural communities, such as encouraging entrepreneurship, must be explored. Entrepreneurship has the potential to boost local economies by tapping local talent and resources and to help keep rural populations from declining even further. Through entrepreneurial growth, rural economies can diversify and become less dependent on the economic pendulum swings affecting agriculture and other rural industries. In short, entrepreneurs can ensure that the Walkerton community will survive.

Entrepreneurship has always been an important part of America's economic tradition. Generally speaking, entrepreneurship refers to the creation or expansion of new businesses and industries, often by individuals who perceive a new market niche or opportunity and assume the risk of the venture.

Entrepreneurship is an attractive community and economic development tool for a host of reasons. The most important reason is that entrepreneurship creates wealth, not just wages. The wealth created by entrepreneurs stays in the community through reinvestment. This is different from job creation, which brings wages to rural communities but does not necessarily keep corporate wealth within the boundaries of those communities.

Entrepreneurship not only helps retain wealth in a community; it also retains talent. Entrepreneurs in rural areas are more likely to become community leaders and reinvest through philanthropy and volunteer work. Entrepreneurial behavior generates many outcomes including stronger civic leadership, better students, more productive workers, and enterprise creators.

In addition to the economic benefits of entrepreneurship, there are intangible benefits that can boost a community's spirit. As rural communities experience economic decline, their sense of security, optimism and community pride may wane. A culture of entrepreneurship has great potential to lift those spirits.

Downtown Walkerton empty lots - Photo by Harmony Lynn Inman

According to Raymond W. Smilor of the Kauffman Center of Community Policy in Minnesota, in a paper titled "Entrepreneurship and Community Development," this is where entrepreneurship has some real community development potential. Smilor argues that entrepreneurs are ultimate optimists and that their optimism is a "remarkably potent resource for building community."

Improving a community's spirit can lead to other benefits. A community with a strong spirit and an entrepreneurial environment is likely to have the potential to create organizations focused on better health care, childcare and other social services. In fact, the Kauffman Center has introduced the idea of social entrepreneurs, or people who use their entrepreneurial spirit to start organizations that focus on community development.

The Walkerton Commercial Strip on Roosevelt Rd.

Simply put, entrepreneurship can help fill empty spaces in downtown Walkerton! Saving for the capital needed to invest in an upstart business here can really boost the community! You can benefit other area businesses and compliment each other by attracting pedestrians on the same block? The challenges are the same across the Nation! Retailers must compete with online services like Amazon, or big retailers like Wal-Mart, and Target in South Bend and Plymouth. A distinct menu for a restaurant can really attract customers from all over! People will drive far for good food and ambience? Diners are typically looking for a moment to celebrate! They want an experience to remember.

*Nikki Foster, author, Entrepreneurship In Rural America

**Raymond W. Smilor, author, Entrepreneurship and Community Development

***Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership. 1997

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