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Want to Start a Business?

This special story about Columbia--"the entrepreneurial capital of the world," according to Chris Wilson with comments from several community leaders, is a highlight of the July 2008 Chamber Insights It is an article every person interested in the business climate of Columbia will want to read. -CM

By Dr. Dan Koger, Lindsey Wilson College Professor

Want to Start a Business?

Try Tapping Into The Entrepreneurial Spirit of Adair County

Realtor Chris Wilson isn't shy in his views of Columbia-Adair County as a place to start your own business. To him the area is "the entrepreneurial capital of the world."

Whether this can be numerically verified is beside the point for Wilson, who started his successful real estate business in Adair county several years ago.

Just look around at all the small businesses here, he says, many of them began in the past few years.

And while you're looking, says Dr. Max Downey, who started a large optometry practice here, think about the history of Columbia and Adair County.

"We have an entrepreneurial way of life here," he said. "It's like the rest of the country was in the 50's and 60's. And don't forget some of the inventors who started businesses here, like the creator of a process for wrapping bars of soap or the inventor of a machine for making corrugated paper board for boxes."

Darrell Overstreet, who started a mortgage business in Columbia, is a life-long resident of the area. He sees lots of forces coming together to bring beneficial change, with small business and entrepreneurship as a key part of the process.

But, he says, having the right attitude is critical. "We've lost some factories, like Oshkosh," he said. "The area can't let that stop progress".

Overstreet, like others, points to the many recent projects that can come together for economic improvement. Among these are the bypass, a big Wal-Mart, a new water plant, expansion at Lindsey Wilson College, a new county-government building and reactivation of the Industrial Development Authority.

What he'd like from all this, Overstreet said, is for a clear vision to emerge that will direct these changes in a productive direction.

"I'm seeing the area blossom with opportunity," he said. "This is the most positive that I've seen in my lifetime. We can't let old thinking slow us down."

Jim Hadley thinks opportunities are there for entrepreneurs in Columbia and Adair County who are willing to take "a calculated risk".

Hadley, founder and President of Majestic Yachts, knows something about risk. His company manufactures big houseboats costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"You have to invest in yourself", he said of his business attitude, even as his firm looks for creative ways to manage the challenges of high gasoline prices.

"Our nationwide sales force is strong and we're always looking for ways to improve and adapt", he said. For example, Hadley's customers can now order their boats with arrays of solar panels installed. His factory, at the intersection of the bypass and the Columbia Parkway, will soon have a large new sign proclaiming his location to passing motorists as the home of "Majestic Yachts".

He, like other area entrepreneurs, would like to see more training and retraining opportunities for the local workforce. He's hopeful that Lindsey Wilson College will join the Columbia-Adair County Chamber of Commerce and Adair County High School in making such learning available to all in the area who want it.

Columbia Mayor Pat Bell points to efforts by his administration to support local businesses, especially entrepreneurial start-ups.

"We have to grow our entrepreneurs", he said. "Look at what we have here. We have to support our existing businesses and help new ones get started".

As attractive as it might be to lure a major manufacturer to the area, neither Bell nor Adair County Judge Executive Ann Melton are waiting until that happens.

"We have to help those businesses that are here", Melton said. "We have to make the best possible use of our existing resources. That means we have to find the best possible use for the Courthouse. We need to make downtown Columbia viable and alive. We need public forums on economic development so the people can tell us what they want for their community".

If the nation's economic-development experts are right, Columbia and Adair County are on the right track.

One of these development gurus, Jack Schultz, author of the bestselling book Boom Town - 7 Keys to Big Success in Small Towns, notes in his Key #5 that community leaders need to "encourage an entrepreneurial spirit".

"Look deeply into any prospering small town, and you'll find an entrepreneurial spirit manifesting itself in any number of ways", Schultz writes. In his view, a town can't have too many entrepreneurs.

In an age of computers, the internet and wide-ranging diversity of location, he writes, top workers can often live where they choose. Small towns, and what Schultz call "Agurbs", often have a strong edge over urban areas as a desirable place for such skilled workers to live and raise a family.

Handling the changes that entrepreneurial activities can bring to small towns won't always be easy, Schultz writes. In fact, they can often challenge the status quo. But communities that want to prosper must be prepared to leave their "comfort zones".

"Towns trying to expand their comfort zones must face two enemies", he writes, "Status Quo and Fear of Failure. Together they make a powerful tag-team intent on deterring expansion into new areas of growth. Those who pay heed to status quo and fear of failure find the pull and sway of these two enemies irresistible; it's like trying to run in a vat of waist-deep, thick, rich molasses. You're not going to get anywhere very quickly".

Community leaders and residents who can avoid these twin deterrents can direct change in ways that benefit everyone.

"Towns that see change as a necessary component of community health will stay a step ahead, remain prosperous or get on the road to revitalization", Schultz writes. "Change is the vehicle that keeps you moving forward on that road to success or revival".

For the many entrepreneurs of Columbia and Adair County this is pretty much business as usual.

This story was posted on 2008-07-22 08:17:16
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