The last couple of days have been in Effingham, Illinois. Effingham is the home of Jack Schultz, the author of author of Boomtown USA: The 7-1/2 Keys to Big Success in Small Towns and CEO of Agracel, a developer of industrial projects. Jack and his wife Betinha have been the most outstanding hosts. Effingham is a community of just over 12,000 people who have committed to creating a better future over a long period of time. What is most impressive is the difference a few people can make instigating and persevering with projects as times change and reinvention is the new norm.
I was fortunate to have a number of tours of local businesses. Pam gave a great insight into the Patterson Technology Center, which started off as a software company and now with a number of activities employs 450 people locally. It just goes to show how one or two people can create wealth and opportunity for the wider community. Jack also gave a whirlwind tour of Midland States Bank which has seen some big growth in the last few years and also supports a number of community initiatives (see CEO below). I even managed a ride on a locomotive.
Agracel has a great niche in providing development services to Agurb® (rural) communities. They’ve done over 100 projects in 17 states so see all sorts of approaches to economic development outside big cities. Some interesting insights were around manufacturers preferring to be in rural locations because of costs, workforce availability and work ethic. Do manufacturers currently in cities consider relocation? Anything is possible, it just comes down to people…I’d recommend the BoomTown book for some down to earth ideas.
Todd and the team gave a overview of some of the tools they have in their incentives toolkit, including Business districts, enterprise zones and tax increment financing districts. Their insight about advantages of smaller locations were simple – quality of life.
Craig is incredibly passionate about the importance of kids learning entrepreneurship through learning and changing the way kids view the world. Students have 90 minute classes each day, are integrated with the local business community and every student starts their own business. It is similar to the Young Enterprise Trust in NZ. Do you see value if children learning entrepreneurship for 90 minutes a day, even if their business fails at the end of it? If you fancy yourself as an entrepreneur, take the Gallup Entrepreneurial Profile 10.
The last session of the day was with the very passionate and saavy Brian. After years of hard work, they have recently secured investment in a Cronus $1.4b fertiliser plant. Brian gave his thoughts on success – knowing your local strengths, learning from failure, community engagement and just how much of a long term commitment economic development is. He is another believer in the small town advantage.