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Rural economic development a key focus of Global Entrepreneurship Week in this state

At a time when many rural communities in Washington State and elsewhere are sensing a growing disconnect from urban centers, the most intriguing aspect of Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) as it unfolds next month in this state may well be the efforts to assist entrepreneurs in rural areas.


GEW activities that will occur in virtually every corner of this state, events in big cities and small towns, will provide entrepreneurs an opportunity to seek advice, counsel and even start-up funding as Washington State takes a leading role in the world's biggest celebration of innovation and entrepreneurship.


Most of the activities relating to GEW, which is sponsored by the entrepreneurism-focused Kauffman Foundation, are during the Nov. 18-24 designated week for GEW.

Maury Forman

The emphasis on rural entrepreneurism is due to the man responsible for the GEW events in this state. Maury Forman is senior manager at the State Department of Commerce and the state's leading advocate of rural economic development as the head of rural strategies.


Forman explained his rural focus this way: "Economic development has changed.  It used to be that people went where the jobs are. Now the jobs are going where the people are and that will allow many rural communities to become more competitive."


"Economic growth in rural areas is going to come from communities growing their own businesses through programs supporting entrepreneurs rather than coveting someone else's business," said Forman.


That represents a point echoed by others that rural communities long guided by the goal of luring businesses to move to their towns need to replace that largely frustrating goal with initiatives to create entrepreneurial support services that will help foster job creation.


The old economic development model of expending time and resources to attract new business to move to an area isn't exactly dead for many rural development organizations. But it is giving way dramatically to initiatives that are, as David McFadden, the Yakima Valley's economic development leader, puts it: "building our economy from within."


Thus McFadden's Yakima County Development Association has put together a couple of innovations that "represent a new wave of thinking about economic development, making an emphasis on quality of place more important than ever."


 McFadden's group has adopted a two-part entrepreneur development strategy "recognizing that emerging companies are important drivers of local economies."


An annual business plan contest launched four years ago to identify and nurture promising companies has attracted more than 50 start-up firms to participate in a process that includes employing SCORE volunteers for three-month seminars.


"The other strategic initiative is to help local employers attract technical and professional employees into the region," McFadden said. "This is a huge business retention issue as our businesses struggle to fill key positions."


A key part of GEW events in Washington is the day-long Rural Pathways to Prosperity, being put on in 13 mostly rural communities across the state by the Washington State University Extension Service.


Becky McCray, a national expert on changing the entrepreneurial climate, will provide the keynote broadcast on a live webinar to the various communities with a focus on guiding participants to understand how to create small business ecosystems.


The conference is an outgrowth of Forman's conviction that the focus needs to be "not on entrepreneurs but on creating entrepreneurial communities with workforce programs and technical assistance, infrastructure that provides communities a better chance of retaining entrepreneurs."


"High school kids really want to stay in their own communities and building entrepreneurial communities creates a better chance for students to do that," he said.


Students will be among the various target audiences for Pathways to Progress organizers in the various communities, but Prosser and Colville are two communities that will have specific initiatives aimed at attracting the involvement of high school students.


Prosser High School has created a contest for high school students to produce a poster board for judges detailing their product, the target market, how the product would be manufactured and how they would make money.


And at Colville High School, eleven vocational programs from Colville High School in Stevens County will run a contest for students to develop an entrepreneurial business plan in a particular field.


A fast-growing entrepreneur-focused program that is now headquartered in Kirkland and, under the sponsorship of Google has developed a global reach, is Fast-Pitch Weekend, a 54-hour fast dash to organize a start-up business.


It's not really tied to GEW and is held this coming weekend around the country with groups of developers, business managers, startup enthusiasts, marketing gurus, graphic artists and others pitching ideas for new startup companies, forming teams around those ideas, and seeking to develop a working prototype or presentation by Sunday evening.


The organization estimates that, as of last April, more than 1,000 events had been held, involving more than 100,000 entrepreneurs in more than 400 cities around the world, creating an estimates 8,190 startups.


How important are entrepreneurs to the economy and thus economic development? The Kauffman Foundation says statistics show that entrepreneurs who have only been in business for one year have already created one million jobs this past year alone, adding that "their contribution will be able to replace obsolete business and create new wealth and opportunities to existing and future residents.

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