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Entrepreneurs Growing Here


The Gazette

May 6, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by The Gazette, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of The Gazette.]

    It’s creatively called ‘‘economic gardening’’ — sowing the seeds for entrepreneurial activity, tilling the seedbed to support growth and plowing the benefits back into a community. Whether this strategy for economic development is worth planting all over the state will be determined in large part by the yield from a test plot this summer in northwest Iowa.

    The first seeds of a pilot project aimed in part at encouraging students to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams in Iowa will be planted July 30 when eight students from each of the state’s three public universities come together at the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory on West Lake Okoboji. They’ll participate in the first Okoboji Entrepreneurial Institute, an intensive week of free training that includes developing business plans and meeting with state and regional business and financial leaders. They’ll also take part in cultural and recreational activities in the area.

    Business leaders in northwest Iowa hope they will harvest at least a few of those students, convincing them to return after graduation to set up shop in their communities.

    ‘‘If we can’t convince at least a few of those students that this is a great spot to stay and do business, then we ought to be shot,’’ said Toby Shine, a project supporter, Iowa entrepreneur and board member of the Iowa Department of Economic Development.

    The concept is sound, both for the state and for the region. Iowans have long talked about the ‘‘brain drain’’ and the need to convince young Iowans to stay in the state when they graduate. While the pilot project is aimed specifically at fostering economic development in a rural area, those spearheading the project want to create a template that can be applied to any region of the state.

    Moreover, the pilot project represents one of the most exciting pairings of Iowa’s higher education expertise in education, research and development and Iowa’s economic development initiatives that the state has experienced in a long time. If the program is successful, it will provide a blueprint for action in other communities that covers two areas. First, it will show universities and community colleges how to connect with communities or regions, and vice versa, to bring educational programs into those communities to provide lifelong learning opportunities. Second, it will lay out the process for economic gardening.

    That development strategy includes creating an environment where entrepreneurial activity is encouraged, where the necessary infrastructure and resources are made available and where fear of failure in a business endeavor is not considered an obstacle.

    The leaders in developing the project hope to have information to share by the end of year. Economic development movers and shakers in the Technology Corridor and elsewhere should monitor this project and incorporate the best elements of ‘‘entrepreneurial gardening’’ throughout Iowa.