"I think entrepreneurship should be the primary economic development driver or strategy in Carbon County," said Dawn Ferrante, director of Economic Development for the county.
She has been talking to individuals and groups whoever is willing to listen about her ideas for an entrepreneurship coaching program, and perhaps ultimately, an entrepreneurship center in Carbon County.
As the focus person for economic development in the county, Ferrante is well aware of the three sectors of the economy that she needs to work with: attracting larger businesses, growing existing local businesses, and building a culture of entrepreneurship to create and support new businesses.
"What has been done traditionally is 'Business Attraction,' a focus on bringing businesses that are outside of the area to the area," she explained. "However, that is a very expensive approach. It is very costly to do that. You have to market. You have to advertise.
"There are 15,000 organizations in the country, like mine, that do this, and about 200 opportunities for businesses to expand or relocate," she continued. "So, 15,000 organizations are vying for 200 opportunities.
"When I look at that, I think, I don't want to play that game," she noted. "I'm not interested in that level of competition. We don't have the things that other areas have like major thoroughfares for distribution. What we do have is a great quality of life, a wonderful beautiful place to live, and a lot of skilled people who live here looking for those lifestyle kinds of things."
She said that while she continues to work with businesses from the small shops to the large manufacturers to help them sustain, maintain and grow, she also wants to re-energize members of the hidden economy, those that were laid off and those working from home.
"People want more opportunities to work locally, or to work with other entrepreneurs, and have support available to get going," Ferrante said. "Those people who are starting up from nothing that's where I want to focus."
Ferrante is lobbying for the Entrepreneurial League System, an entrepreneurship coaching program based on the work of Thomas Lyons of Baruch College, City University of New York. The program has been implemented in two regional areas: one near Charlottesville, and a second encompassing central Louisiana.
"The outcomes over a two-year period are unbelievable," she observed. "The participating entrepreneurs grew their businesses an average of 41 percent and they added 300 jobs and they did this during the downturn in the economy."
The ELS is modeled after baseball's farm team system. Following an evaluation, participating entrepreneurs are assigned a position in the farm system.
The beginners are "rookies." \As their skill and experience level increases, they may be assigned to A, AA, or AAA the highest level before they are in the major leagues.
"Then we would give you a coach at your level," Ferrante explained. "You talk one-on-one about whatever is important to you – marketing, employee, sales – it's like business therapy.
"Every other week, you get together with all the other entrepreneurs at your level – that's really group therapy. Then you get mentorship with others that are performing at a higher level."
Ferrante favors the ELS program.
"A lot of the state programs and economic development programs that we have are totally cookie cutter. They are one size fits all. They don't address individuals needs."
She notes that a program may offer a low interest loan.
"Entrepreneurs respond, 'That's great, but I don't need a loan. I'm having problems with my payroll,' or 'I'm having problems with people having soft skills.' In the ELS program, I'm not trying to force solutions down your throat," she said. "I'm asking you what you need and I'm helping you with that. It's totally customized, based on the individual needs of the entrepreneur."
Ferrante learned about the ELS program during her studies for a master's degree in community and economic development at the Penn State main campus.
"When I heard about this at Penn State over the summer, it was like the heavens opened up," she noted. "I finally found something that I think can really benefit entrepreneurs. I've been telling people we need to establish this program in Carbon County."
For more information about the Entrepreneurial League System, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.