Arnie Lillo's sculpture

“Entrepreneurship” is the stock answer when someone asks what a rural community is supposed to do to create new jobs.

Horseshoe and nails sculpture by Arnie Lillo of Good Thunder, Minnesota

It’s an easy thing to say, entrepreneurship, and we find those who have never tried to start a business say it most easily. Making money is hard — and it’s harder in rural communities, where markets are smaller and skilled workers are fewer. Distance matters in business.

We read a report today from Minnesota 2020 about an entrepreneurship program that makes sense. (Minnesota 2020 is an extremely helpful organization that earlier released a study on rural economic development.) 2020’s Lee Egerstrom takes us to Blue Earth County, Minnesota, in the south-central portion of the state, where entrepreneurship has become a way of life and development.

The Riverbend Center for Entrepreneurial Facilitation is a one-man outfit operating out of Mankato. Bryan Stading is Riverbend. Stading works with small business owners to solve their problems. He connects businesses to lenders or to volunteer mentors. “Instead of having a dairy farm go out of business, let’s work to get them back to a level of profitability,” Stading explained to Egerstrom. It costs $59,000 a year to keep Bryan Stading in business. Last year, he helped save (or “create”) 93 jobs, at a cost of a little over $630 each.

Laura's s'mores

For example, Stading helped Laura Dhuyvetter turn her in-home business making candy into an expanding commercial kitchen with two employees. Now Laura is a mentor for other small business owners who come to Riverbend for assistance.

One of Laura Dhuyvetter’s s’mores

Riverbend has been helping small businesses in Blue Earth for the past decade, and Stading is still collecting a dozen new clients a month. (Entrepreneurship may be contagious.) The roster of Riverbend’s clients is typical of the kinds of businesses that spring up in small towns. There are a marketing consultant, a language translating service, computer programmers and Arnie Lillo, who crafts huge metal sculptures.

The business of economic development is improvisation, of finding solutions to pressing problems. That’s true in rural towns or the biggest of cities. Places that are good at solving problems will thrive. Blue Earth County has found a way to help business owners successfully improvise, and at a very low cost. You can call it entrepreneurship, or just good business.

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