Friday, November 13, 2009

Enabling Entrepreneurs

First, a great day this week meeting with the Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly, Mike Sheridan. The Speaker is on my left in the photo. On my right is my friend and our State Representative Steve Hilgenberg.

Next, I thoroughly enjoyed my presentation to the Wisconsin Economic Development Association gathering this past Monday.

The discussion at the end of these talks is always the best part. I was asked a long-standing question that is universal: Are entrepreneurs born or can they be made?

I took the obvious route and said yes.

Too easy. I also didn't get the answer right.

Entrepreneurs are not born or made. Entrepreneurs are enabled.

We can't make people do this stuff, but we certainly can make it easier for those that want to.

It's my opinion that we need better entrepreneurship infrastructure of all kinds. That's why I'm so excited about the almost endless possibilities for new business platforms that our Innovation Kitchen in Mineral Point will enable. Ditto for the local foods processing cluster we're designing and building across Iowa County and beyond. New platforms for creating value. Easier ways for people to know their farmers and food processors. Easier paths to value for all involved.

Entrepreneurs are not born or made. Entrepreneurs are enabled.

So, what does that mean in the trenches?

I learned a new term of art (for me anyway) that is one key tool for enabling entrepreneurs: enabling legislation. Enabling legislation isn't a tool like a hammer or a food processing plant. It's language used in law and regulation that helps something desirable happen.

I've got 3 words that I think could change economic development in rural areas dramatically. These three words could be inserted into (enabling) legislation so that it would create an outcome everyone wants. Such as enabling entrepreneurship and local foods.

In many states, including Wisconsin, there is legislation in the works that would guide institutional buying to build in a preference for locally grown food. I applaud that but I would insert my three words: a preference for locally grown and locally processed food.

You've seen this broken model in other business sectors… You produce a product. You ship it out of the region at low prices for value to be added. Then you buy your own stuff back at high prices. Haven't we heard this story long enough?

So, if you are a person out there who is working on local foods initiatives, think about adding one more layer to the equation. Include 'and locally processed' into your descriptions. Three simple words could lead to wonderful rural economic development possibilities. How anyone defines 'local' is up to them, of course, but there needn't be one answer. Different communities at local, state and regional levels can define what's right for them, and we can all have a good food experience figuring it out.

Creating appropriate scale economic infrastructure to support agriculture and rural economies benefits all people in a region. If regions are to prosper, rural communities must be included. Thriving rural economies support and enrich urban economies. Without both, regions stagnate.

We need to enable our local growers and food entrepreneurs a launch path to join the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF2) movement, sponsored by the White House (Thank you Mrs. Obama!) and the USDA.

We need to enable entrepreneurship of all flavors with as many tools as we can muster.

There is always economic chaos and we are entering an era of even faster change, but I'm a person who believes that, in general, humanity will continue to re-emerge into better lives with increasing value and dignity for continuously-increasing numbers of us.

Entrepreneurs are not born or made. Entrepreneurs are enabled.

You can do it. Wherever you are personally in this discussion, I urge you to enable and to be enabled by the possibilities of entrepreneurship. Let's go. The world needs you!

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF2)

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