A new initiative created to attract business owners and entrepreneurs to a quartet of area rural communities is now awaiting applicants.
Create Here officially started April 15 with the launch of a website, CreateHere.biz, designed by the Missouri State University Advertising Team. The initiative is part of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks’ Growth in the Rural Ozarks program, which promotes economic development in the communities of Aurora, Buffalo, Marshfield and Sarcoxie.
Organizers are seeking applicants to present a business plan to set up shop in one of the four communities. The communities, in turn, are each set to provide incentives and support services to help ease the cost, time and effort invested in starting a new business venture, according to Danielle Gitzen, an MSU senior and president of the Ad Team. Among the incentives are one-year memberships in the local chamber of commerce, free marketing and legal support, and economic training consultation.
“It’s the perfect opportunity for those interested in starting a business, … an entrepreneur, to make an economic impact on a community,” Gitzen said.
The total value for the incentives is approximately $10,000 between the communities, Gitzen said. “They’re basically complimentary services they’re offering that will make the move to the community a lot easier and smoother,” she said.
Getting on board
The MSU Ad Team connected with CFO in January after the college was approached to do a third-party examination of the GRO program, said Brian Fogle, CFO president.
The Create Here concept already exited. Locally, it was patterned after a similar initiative in Sacramento, California, said Hrishue Mahalaha, chief economic adviser for Innovation Economy Partners. The Cleveland, Ohio-based economic advisory firm has worked with CFO on the GRO program since 2016. Marshfield, Sarcoxie and Salem were the first communities in the rural economic development program, with Aurora and Buffalo joining in late 2017.
Salem is not participating in the new initiative due to other project commitments, Mahalaha said.
He said Create Here aims to create local businesses, and it enables CFO and MSU interests to come together.
“The hypotheses we’re testing is that if we can simplify the process for entrepreneurs or small businesses, how many could start in the GRO communities?” he said.
Applications are accepted through June 30 on the Create Here website. Applicant experience, financial viability and soundness of the business plan, and how the business will fit in the community are all part of the application review process, Mahalaha said.
Community representatives will then narrow down the applicants prior to an Aug. 10 business pitch competition, which will be held in each of the four communities. Business representatives in Aurora, Buffalo, Marshfield and Sarcoxie then will select one winner each, he added.
Fogle said the initiative helps with “economic gardening” as it encourages communities to grow its own businesses.
“It’s building on the foundation you already have, as much as recruiting from outside,” he said.
Upon beginning the project, the 11-person MSU team met with Mahalaha to learn about the Create Here initiative, the GRO program and expectations. Gitzen said team members then visited the communities to compile content, including videos, to add to the promotional website.
“A lot of our small rural communities may not have marketing people there,” Fogle said. “Having that kind of resource with MSU has been great.”
Gitzen said representatives in the four communities are available for applicants to gather more information about business possibilities, site selection and more details on incentives.
The Create Here website lists the contacts as Jack Muench, president, First Independent Bancshares Inc., Aurora; Hollie Elliott, executive director, Dallas County Economic Development Group, Buffalo; Chan Crooker, bank manager, BOB Community Financial, Marshfield; and Patty Mandera, community engagement coordinator, city of Sarcoxie.
“We don’t know what to expect or how well it will work,” said Crooker of BOB Community Financial. “But it’s a really great idea.”
He said Marshfield won’t be restrictive on the types of businesses that apply.
“We’ll take on all comers,” he said. “We don’t know what one would be the best fit, so we’re fishing and seeing what will be the best catch.”
Organizers consider this year a trial, though their intent is to make Create Here an annual program as adjustments are made.
As a student, Gitzen said the project with CFO was an opportunity unlike any other in college.
“It’s definitely been a learning experience. It can be pressuring and challenging at times,” she said. “But it’s also been one of the best things I’ve been a part of.”
She’s leading nonprofits through open-book management — a journey that started with her own charity as a case study.
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