The Towns That Build Entrepreneurs

[imgbelt img=oklahoma-towns530.jpg]Why do some communities have twice the average number of businesses?
Two Oklahoma scholars see several avenues to business creation.

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[imgcontainer left] [img:oklahoma-falls320.jpg] [source]Thomas and Dianne Jones

By focusing on local amenties they share (like beautiful Turner Falls), rival towns Sulphur and Davis have fostered small business development in both communities.

Several recent Yonder articles have highlighted the virtues of rural entrepreneurs:  we’ve had stories of Alabama residents adapting their textile skills to provide customized clothing, heard about the resiliency of flea markets to the recession, and listened to some policy ideas about promoting individual entrepreneurs.  Timothy Collins even shared a brief history of entrepreneurial development in rural areas, indicating that entrepreneurship has been a “bootstrap approach” to income and jobs for residents with few other alternatives.  Collins also suggests that a strong entrepreneurial base is a precursor to attracting larger firms or businesses.

There is no doubt that entrepreneurs are important for rural areas.  But there is more to successful entrepreneurship than just a person with a good idea and a sound work ethic.  An encouraging and understanding community is also crucial. Without some type of support system or help to get them started, many potential business owners would not even consider the entrepreneurial path.

So what can communities do to help entrepreneurs succeed?

Taking a look at some case studies from a relatively rural state like Oklahoma is a good place to start searching for the answer.

Pull Factors” above 1.0, indicating that each area is attracting shoppers from localities.  By comparison, the average pull factor of other Oklahoma communities with pop. less than 40,000 is only 0.72, which implies that residents in these communities are leaving to shop elsewhere.

Why have these communities been so successful at engaging entrepreneurs?  To be sure, some of their success has been driven by geography and the presence of natural amenities.  However, the five towns shown in Table 1 are located in four very diverse geographical regions of the state with different levels and types of amenities. They therefore offer an opportunity to look at several different approaches to becoming an “entrepreneurial community.”

Initiative for the Future of Rural Oklahoma” grant that helped them think about their shared goals and walk through the issues they had.

Known for their natural resources (including falls and springs) and a national park, both towns have set up beautification committees that cross over between municipalities to ensure that visitors want to return to the area. The chambers of commerce in both towns combine events such as banquets and auctions, and actively promote businesses within both communities.  As residents in both communities note, “What’s good for Sulphur is good for Davis, and what’s good for Davis is good for Sulphur.”

can be found here.

Brian Whitacre is an assistant professor in the department of Agricultural Economics at Oklahoma State University.  Lara Brooks is an Extension State Specialist focusing on rural health care, rural entrepreneurship, and retail sales analysis.

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