BIZTIPS - March 12, 2006

Biz Tips: Young Entrepreneurs Bring Opportunity Home
Sunday, March 12, 2006
By Art Hill

You've heard the story over and over. "Promising young student leaves home town for better opportunity." It's hardly new, and it's not unique to eastern Oregon. In fact it's so common, it's almost taken for granted. The real problem is not that our best and brightest leave our rural communities; it's that we believe there's nothing we can do about it.

Recent workshops in Baker City, Enterprise, and La Grande demonstrated that there is plenty we can do about it. Craig Schroeder, Senior Associate at the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship in Lincoln Nebraska, guided groups of community leaders through a process that has transformed rural cities from "dead zones" for youth into magnets for their creativity and ambition.

First, studies show that young people want the quality of life in smaller towns and cities, but they don't see the jobs they need to thrive as singles, couples, and young families. And what do they hear from adults? "This place isn't growing ... better look somewhere else." So lesson #1 is "Get over it!" Learn the strengths of your community and talk to young people about them. Do you suppose the waves of families and businesses that have relocated to eastern Oregon did so because there were no opportunities? Young people are smarter than that.

Second, there's a global shift that places more value on high quality goods and services than mass production. That has opened the door for small businesses to supply an increasing share of manufactured goods and professional services. At the same time, instantaneous world-wide communication and radically efficient shipping mean that a start-up company in John Day making competition archery string and cable can target customers worldwide. That's one story among hundreds. Maybe it wasn't possible 25 years ago, but it's reality now.

Finally, this is not a curious little trend creating just a few opportunities. According to national statistics, fully 70% of economic growth and new jobs are now attributed to entrepreneurship.

So the next time you talk with a young person about their future, be smart and be honest. There may be more pages of want ads in metro papers, but real opportunities for personal economic development are right here where they grew up. Building a business in their own community may not be easy, but it won't be dull. And they will never say they couldn't make a difference.

Content © 2006 East Oregonian