West Points

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Out of the West - Entrepreneurship and Innovation

The struggle to create economically sustainable communities in Mendocino County, as in rural communities throughout the United States, goes on. Increasingly, rural places that are being successful are turning to traditional American entrepreneurship.

That is, they are focusing on locally owned and operated companies that include small manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, and service companies. These companies operate in diverse sectors from the arts - that includes fine arts and crafts and the entertainment arts - to renewable energy production and so many in between, such as food production, value added food processing, alternative health care services, eco-tourism....oh my, this list is so Mendocino County....and yet just a start.

This entrepreneurship strategy requires that a community look within to its assets - natural and human; that it imagines the mix of products and services that it wants; that it supports local businesses that provide those products and services - and that those companies innovate as demanded by the times.

Marquette, Michigan on Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (pop.20,000) has such a company. It is a department store that was founded in the late 1800's, survived more than a century that saw both upturns and downturns, including several recessions and the Great Depression, and then went online in 1997. In an interview with NPR, the VP of Marketing for Getz's Department Store responded to the question, "How do you account for Getz's survival?" with, "A lot of loyalty from our local customers. You know, our community is not large and we're prould of this. We have a lot of community members that shop here and shop locally. We really treat people like they're family when they come in."

And then, the discussion turned to reveal that 20% of the company's business is walk-in traffic and 80% is online. This is a company that innovated, kept its storefront for the local folks and created new jobs to cash in on the 'new economy'.

Some rural folks actually like simple living and declare that they prefer a small community that may not have a 'copy' of every possible chain store or restaurant that so many U.S. towns and cities have. Their retort is they prefer to be unique, to have their own 'flavor' as it were. Sounds like Marquette, Michigan - sounds like Mendocino County.

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