Region’s Economic “Road Map” Still Unfulfilled

In 2008, the Southern Minnesota Competitiveness Project “aimed to improve the competitiveness and bolster the economic well-being of the region.”

It involved more than 1,000 leaders meeting over a 12-month period and resulted in a series of findings and recommendations released in 2009. The observations included that while the region “enjoys many measures of prosperity” there are worries about a “persistent slide in per-capita incomes and the ongoing exodus of young people.”

The solutions included emphasizing investments in manufacturing bioscience and high technology which “offer the biggest upside in lifting incomes.”

The potential could be realized, it noted, because of the “outstanding system of primary, secondary and tertiary education” BUT the region’s capacity to innovate and grow entrepreneurs “does not appear to match the quality of these institutions” citing a lack of equity capital to fund start-up businesses.

And then there’s community support. “Closing this gap is crucial to seizing the region’s new economic opportunities” but it noted he region “has not yet embraced an ‘innovation agenda’.”

It stated that the region “must build a stronger support system for its entrepreneurs” that includes schools, businesses, governments and universities of the region.

There are pockets of this ecosystem some of which are being built by the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. And in 2016, Mankato was presented with a gift from Curt Fisher of the Hubbard Building which now serves as the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship operated by the College of Business for Mankato State University.

But even then it was noted the building is only a “catalyst” not the vision or creation of an ecosystem. The presentation then was “the vision’s success will be determined by all community constituencies coming together fueled by the objectives of innovation and revitalization.”

The Kauffman Foundation defines an entrepreneurial ecosystem as “its people and the culture of trust and collaboration that allows them to interact socially.” Its elements include entrepreneurs and talent, people and institutions with knowledge and resources to help entrepreneurs and individuals who champion them.

It also requires access points and intersections to facilitate interactions. We actually have some of these including Mogwai Cooperative and Makerspace in Mankato; Startup Factory in Austin; and The Park in Waseca.

And while we have pockets of entrepreneurial spirit, the networks are small or in some cases being developed internally such as the Taylor Innovation Center.

The creation of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is only the beginning of this ecosystem. Participation, involvement with such initiatives as One Million Cups – especially by area businesses – is one step in building awareness and collaboration.

And for the entrepreneurs that stay in our community, we need to support them either as being customers or providing assistance and guidance. As Kauffman says “Entrepreneurship is a community sport.”

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