Who’s On First? How About Entrepreneurs.

10 May 2023

News Categories, Press Release

In Economic Development, there have traditionally been three legs of the stool that professionals have focused on including: Business Retention & Expansion, Business Attraction, and Entrepreneurship.    This article focuses some time on entrepreneurial development that typically represents the biggest driver of economic activity in the United States. 

According to a report issued by the Small Business Administration (SBA) in 2019, small businesses account for two-thirds of new jobs and deliver 44% of the United States’ gross domestic product (GDP).  Yet getting from entrepreneurship to a small business is a daunting journey for most, and sherpas are few and far between to guide those wanting to take the risk.  I have myself had a hard time directing entrepreneurs to the right starting point or to an entrepreneurial support organization (ESO) that can put people on the path.  The saying we hear often is: ‘communities tend to roll out the red carpet for big business relocations and communities tend to roll out the red tape for entrepreneurs and small business.’

Everyone knows what happens to a stool that is missing a leg. I had a deep fear that after the pandemic that aging business owners would take stock and say “I’m just done” with no transition or succession plans – closing the doors to foundational small businesses in our communities and causing an even-faster downward trend of disinvestment. 

While our business community proved resilient, so do our entrepreneurs that pop up businesses throughout the community especially at area markets and signature events and even from their homes.  The spirit of entrepreneurship seems to be very much alive and new resources seem pointed to our region, but it does not seem clear on how to build, sustain, and scale a responsive entrepreneurial ecosystem that reports metrics that matter and moves the needle on wealth creation.

A simple but not easy playbook might look like:

  1. Make the choice to adopt this strategy along with an attitude of abundance, focus on inclusion, and continuous innovation until effective approach,
  2. Talk with entrepreneurs to pinpoint what they need and don’t need in Entrepreneur-Led Economic Development,
  3. Assess and map resources and service providers to build a network and determine gaps,
  4. Build trust and a network that starts busting up silos and creates a paradigm for cooperation, collaboration, and joint resourcing, and
  5. Identify simple but key metrics that can tell the story of success.

Some concrete examples include holding regional pitch competitions with cash or technical assistance prizes and creating a “concierge desk” staffed by someone who knows what’s available and can match entrepreneurs with the best resources. Some out-of-the box ideas might be in addition to rebate or stimulus checks, send one for households that start or formalize and incorporate a business; double it for those that sell outside the region and State.

Except for the New Mexico MainStreet Program, there have not been many tools that fit and work for rural and tribal communities.  But in recent years, New Mexico has made a concerted effort to create asset-based economic drivers and incentivize film, outdoor recreation, creative industries, food systems, and tourism as diversification strategies that can work as part of a rural renaissance focus and a wave that the region can ride or even lead.   I applaud the tremendous efforts and strides we have taken in traditional economic development and developing career pathways for key target sectors, but equally important attention needs to be paid to developing entrepreneurial pathways, asset-building programs, and wealth creation.

About Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments

Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments (NWNMCOG) is a 50-year-old regional development organization (RDO) recognized and empowered by the State of New Mexico and the US Economic Development Administration (EDA).  We serve the entire three-county region of Cibola, McKinley, and San Juan counties and the communities therewithin to improve community and economy for the region and its people.  The NWNMCOG is an association of nine local governments governed by a Board of Directors unified by the belief that we are stronger together and only united can we advance on regional opportunities and tackle regional challenges from sustainable water supply, to behavioral health, to strategic infrastructure, and to regional economic development.

For more information about NWNMCOG, visit www.nwnmcog.com.  

Evan Williams has been the Executive Director of the NWNMCOG for four years and is a certified Economic Developer who has been serving the region for over 20 years.  He and his team are responsible to develop, implement, and manage the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy for the region.