The Highs and Lows of Rural Entrepreneurship

Printed with permission from The Underwood News

One would think that economic developers would be used to the ups and downs of the business cycle, but I for one, am not.

I love the high of when a new business opens.  I can feel the energy when I walk into the door.  I react to the smell of a fresh coat of paint.  I smile at each creative whimsy that dares to show itself in the ambiance, customer service, or offering of the hopeful new owner.

In contrast, I hate the low of when a new business closes. The fact of the matter is, however, that most of them do.  Statistically, seven out of ten new businesses fail.  What distinguishes the winners from the losers is hard to quantify, and unfortunately blame is often unnecessarily placed on the wrong persons for unrelated reasons.

No one wins when a new business fails.  The community loses, the lender loses, the employees lose, and most significantly, the owner loses.  The sense of loss the entrepreneur feels is almost unbearable, and we, as a community, need to understand that and be as careful and gentle in our handling of any such loss as we can.

What some people do not know is that this high failure rate in entrepreneurial ventures sometimes results in the creation of other business opportunities.  While the original entrepreneur may in the end decide not to reenter the industry, others may seize the moment to re-open the business or “tweak” the operations plan to make the initial idea more viable.  More often than not, however, the original entrepreneur does reenter the market, having learned some valuable lessons from his or her first unhappy experience.

Some of you know that I was the executive director of a nonprofit performing arts organization in a prior life.  That company was my passion and my dream.  Initially we had wonderful, glorious, and successful years . . . but then we faltered.  Looking back, it is easy to see where we went wrong, but it is not so easy when everything seems to be crashing down around you.  For my own personal financial reasons after ten years I called it quits, but fortunately for me someone else came along to pick up the reins.  The business is still in operation, not quite the same vision as I and the original management team shared, but nonetheless still going.

I was lucky, able to pick up the pieces and start a new life.  Looking back, those years at the helm of that rocky and cheeky new business were the most challenging and least financially rewarding time of my life.  But to be honest, I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

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