Becoming Entrepreneur-Ready

One metro suburban town, one rolling hills country: Holly Springs and Amherst County are on their way to becoming Certified Entrepreneurial Communities®

What do Amherst County and Holly Springs have in common? At least three things:
1. Holly Springs, NC and Amherst County, VA both started the Certified Entrepreneurial Community® program in the fall of 2016.
2. They are both fast becoming more entrepreneurial communities as they join their entrepreneurs with local economic developers to create places well suited to business survival and growth.
3. Both communities have passionate entrepreneurs whose business investment was local for a reason. They are now giving their leadership and time to the Certified Entrepreneurial Community® (CEC®) process to help make the place better for many other business owners and startups alongside and behind them.

Holly Springs, NC, is on the shoulder of the fast-growing Research Triangle Park.  It has 35,000 people and a median household income of $91,470.  Many young professional families are choosing to live in Holly Springs. The town had a total of 2,307 businesses as of 2012 (Census). The population has grown 7% since then.  Holly Springs will be the first town since Black Mountain, NC in (2010) to become a Certified Entrepreneurial Community®.

Amherst County, VA is in the Commonwealth of Virginia, between Lynchburg and Charlottesville along the scenic 4-lane U.S. Highway 29.  Amherst County’s population is 32,000. Median household income is $47,558.  Amherst County is home to Sweet Briar College and a midpoint between two larger college towns.  It already had a brewery, mountain scenery, and a business-friendly county going into the CEC® process.  The county has approximately 1,050 business establishments; 82% have 1-9 employees, and 71% are headquartered in Amherst County.  The county economic development authority has also been successful in recruiting larger industry.

A fourth asset Holly Springs and Amherst County have in common is an economic development organization with staff time devoted to entrepreneurship and small business development.  Their economic developers are excited about the trust and transparency that is developing through the CEC® process with local business owners as they discuss their challenges and what they want from the community.

The emphasis of CEC® is collaborative action.  So it’s right to ask what the two communities are doing to become more entrepreneurial.  Here’s a quick update:

Holly Springs:

Two entrepreneurs stepped up at the first retreat to lead the local initiatives in partnership with the town and other entrepreneurs.  The first initiative is focused on Village District Business Development and building a place that suits firms and their employees who want to live, work, and play in a downtown community environment. The CEC® team is also supporting existing events such as the farmers’ market and half-marathon race that bring excitement and local people downtown.  Results they seek are more people coming to the village district outside of work, visibility, and cross-promotion of downtown business, and in the longer term retaining, attracting, and growing more local firms.  To inform longer term planning, a few of the entrepreneurs will partner with the town on physical development and infrastructure planning for the village district and town.

Entrepreneurs in Holly Springs are also leading an entrepreneur support initiative that includes a few elements. They are partnering with resource agencies in the Triangle region – for small business, workforce and economic development – to create a “Wayfinding Resource for Entrepreneurs” that answers the pressing questions entrepreneurs have at various stages of business development and directs people to available resources in Holly Springs and nearby cities. The collaborative partners will also hold Lunch and Learn events for businesses and hold Village District Roundtable meetings with business owners for the exchange of information and to provide forums for ongoing innovation. The team will plan to have a business resource booth at the half-marathon race in November.

Amherst County:

As in Holly Springs, a couple of the local entrepreneurs in Amherst County stepped up at the first retreat. They have been organizing an inclusive entrepreneur-hosted meetup series ever since. They held the first event in February with farrier turned brewery owner telling his story and a second event in April on customer outreach at a country market. The team created an organizing name and logo with the acronym LINK:  Learn / Inform / Network / Knowledge.  The public schools in Amherst County are a full partner in the LINK.  Amherst County High School culinary students prepared food for the entrepreneur meet-up, and marketing and technology students made and distributed posters.

Meanwhile the resource partners in the region – economic development, merchants’ association, community college, Sweet Briar College, chamber, SBDC, community bank, etc. – are self-organizing to coordinate their offerings and one output is a matrix of the priority resources for business startups and small businesses. They will update the links and contact info, post the directory on the Amherst County economic development website, each create links to it, and promote it through LINK.  Each of the lead organizations will take responsibility for getting business owners and startups to the more specialized resources too.

Stay tuned for more great outcomes as these two CEC®s finish up the first six months of working the action plans they created. Please let us know if your community has national best practices in their focus areas.

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