The Spirit of Entrepreneurship in Rural America
Over spring break Alyssa and I represented MakerGirl at the Fab Lab Symposium in Bentonville, Arkansas. The symposium brought together Fab Labs from across the country for three days of discussion centered on entrepreneurship and innovation. A majority of the labs in attendance were from rural areas and they shared with us how entrepreneurship and innovation are changing the shape of their communities and economies.
A common theme we heard from labs in rural areas was they have trouble keeping their graduating high school seniors in the area because the students don’t see a future for themselves in their rural community. This is hard on the community because it stunts economic growth. The Fab Labs are working hard to solve this problem by emphasizing STEM in schools at every age. Many Fab Labs are located in high schools and community colleges, which provides accessibility to the teachers and students. Teachers have begun to incorporate trips to the labs in their curriculum in order to build their students’ creativity and technical skills. By emphasizing creativity and building within the community at a young age, the labs hope to see their young entrepreneurs stay in the area, start new businesses and help the economy grow.
Another common theme was mass job losses. Within the past decade, many communities in the Appalachia region of the country have been hit with significant job losses due to mining, steel, and paper companies shutting down. With some communities having lost almost 85% of their jobs, they have turned to entrepreneurship and innovation to rebuild their economy. The Fab Labs in these areas have been a very important part of this process because they provide a space where people can go to learn new skills and exercise their creativity. Community colleges have also played an important role and have begun creating entrepreneurial programs that encourage students to start their own small businesses in the community.
Many of rural communities are located in close proximity to each other their community lines begin to blur as they grow. This growth process is occurring in Northwest Arkansas, a region comprised of Fayetteville, Bentonville, Rogers, and Springdale. Northwest Arkansas, home to Wal-Mart and Tyson, is a fast growing region that is using entrepreneurship and innovation to bring a sense of unity to the four towns in their region. They are working to create an innovation center; a part of town intended to showcase new businesses. They provide different financial incentives to businesses looking to move to the area and to individuals looking to create new businesses. The region also hosts a variety of different maker-themed events and contests to celebrate the entrepreneurs in their region. Their entrepreneurial efforts are intended to benefit the region as a whole, as opposed to the individual towns.
Learning about the entrepreneurial spirit of rural America was fascinating and exciting to me. After three days of the symposium, it was clear to me that this trend is not focused on one region of the country, the entrepreneurial spirit is truly beginning to blossom in rural communities across the country.