In the Main Street world, there is a concept called “entrepreneurial friction” (some refer to it as entrepreneurial density). Essentially, when entrepreneurs are in close proximity and can communicate with common purpose, good things can happen. Cross promotions occur, new products are born, and some proto-entrepreneurs have some “mojo” rub off on them, inspiring the next generation of small businesses. This process is vitally important to the growth and development of small communities and diverse commercial districts, but it flies in the face of the dogmatic industrialized processes that evolved post-World War II in the United States.
The growth of entrepreneurial friction coincides with the increase community development emphasis on “third space” creation. The establishment of community gatherings, and gathering places,among a diverse population with a common unifying element can create community pride. Think about Emporia around the Glass Blown Open Block Party, Dirty Kanza Finish Line, Welcome Back Block Party for ESU and FHTC students, and the Great American Market (all Emporia Main Street events). The pride is palpable, and a shared ownership of a “space” (in the aforementioned examples, that space is the downtown), allows participants with common interests to interact in a way that fosters future development. It’s the reason that people will come up to Emporia Main Street staff after the Great American Market with expansion ideas, but they won’t approach us with same “improvement” concepts after a business mixer. The establishment of entrepreneurial “third spaces”, where entrepreneurs come to express ideas, help each other, generate products, and communicate best practices is the ultimate expression of targeted “third space” creation.
This is where the “uncomfortable transition” part kicks in. If we want to help entrepreneurs, we have
to identify our spaces as “shared” ownership with multiple entrepreneurial entities. We have to use technology to extend outside our four walls on a consistent basis, and we have to be honest about our value to different constituent groups. The concept of “shared spaces” through partnerships and uses that are designed to change over time is a little terrifying. People like stability, and a destabilized design, by design, is something that constantly pushes a community outside of its comfort zone. But, an “uncomfortable zone” where we are constantly encouraged to attack problems and mitigate threats is beneficial for the community. In contrast, if we created an environment where we were simply “comfortable”, the incentive to make changes would be nothing but a buzzword bullet point.
The new Emporia Main Street building is designed for shared use. We obviously share the building with the Dirty Kanza offices (they occupy the western third of the building). We will continuously rotate through businesses in the incubator space (occasionally, multiple businesses at one time). The fab lab will bring in a variety of entrepreneurs (some through class offerings, some through member usage). The board room will support alternative meeting space usage. The “work room” will create event and activity usage prep with volunteers. External building ports will encourage the extension of building infrastructure for community event users. Cloud based systems, and a wonderful partnership with ValueNet will extend our technical footprint and allow staff to bring resources directly to businesses and/or organizations outside of our “home”, but the familiarity level produced should encourage more space usage at 727 Commercial Street.
Over the past few years, Emporia Main Street has adapted to new opportunities and challenges for the good of the community. Each time we worked with volunteers and partners to create something
new, it was uncomfortable. Jumping into something new has a fear factor associated with it that can test any organization, but what choice is there? The business world is changing rapidly, and we need to adapt if our region wants to thrive. In 1990 the top three U.S. businesses resided in the Detroit area, employed 1.2 million people, and generated $250 billion in annual sales. In 2014 the top three U.S. businesses resided in Silicon Valley, employed 127,000 people, and generated $247 billion in annual sales. The types of businesses that represented the “top three” entities in 1990 (automotive) and 2014 (technological) are vastly different. If our processes remained stagnant, and we failed to push for new ways to solve problems and generate opportunities, we couldn’t claim our status as community and economic development or hope to keep pace with the rapidly evolving economic climate.
Although we have significant progress that we need to make before we call ourselves “moved in” to
the new office at 727 Commercial Street, we are getting closer every day. As we proceed with full building occupancy, we want to hear from the public about different ways we can fully utilize the space to truly benefit the community. The donors in the Emporia Main Street campaign made the new facility possible, and they invested in the future of entrepreneurship and community development that the new facility represents. We shouldn’t use the word “donor”, and instead should use the term “investor”, because each of the individuals that so graciously contributed to the new facility expect a return. Returns won’t be generated in the traditional “here’s a check” sense, but the expectation is that new initiatives will take place to push the region forward into a positive and sustainable economic and community development trajectory.
The 12 East 5th Avenue location for Emporia Main Street was our home for twenty-seven years, and we will certainly miss the only home most people have ever associated with Emporia Main Street. What members, donors, and volunteers created in that facility across a few staff regimes was truly amazing. Although we are a little sad to leave our “home” for a new location, we fully realize that it was time for Emporia Main Street to evolve into a new entity with resources designed to intersect with today’s opportunities and mitigate modern threats to our region. We don’t view the move as “completing” something, as much as laying the groundwork for a series of new initiatives by resetting our assets.
The new opportunities and new challenges will require expanded relationships with volunteers and community investors. On November 2nd, during “First Friday” activities (Kayla Mock and Joel Smith have done a wonderful job with this event), we will feature an “open house” for a more-complete project. Until then, you can pop in and say hi if you don’t mind dodging our moving boxes…