For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
May 20, 2010 - praise the entrepreneur
I know who created most of the new jobs in this country over the past ten years. I know how many job-makers we're talking about.
I know how old they are, what gender they are likely to be, and a little bit about their background.
I know where they live.
And - thanks to the wonderful research of a librarian friend of mine, Christine Hamilton-Pennell - I know how to help them. (See http://growinglocaleconomies.com.)
It's not a secret. On the other hand, despite all the information that's out there, you don't hear much talk about it. That's odd, since the economy is surely one of the most important issues faced by Douglas County.
There are several big ways to promote economic development.
* Business attraction and recruitment. The idea here is to bring in big outside employers. Usually, that means big box retail. Many people think big employers generate all kinds of benefits, although it often takes various kinds of tax incentives to get them here.
* Business retention. Keep the ones we've got! (Sometimes, big employers pull out, too, with disastrous consequences.)
* Workforce development. Some people need help to get started, whether it's in acquiring basic computer training, learning how to write a resume, understanding a little bit about work place expectations, and so on.
* Reduce "income leaks." There are people who live here, but spend their money elsewhere. A thriving economy invests in itself.
* But here's the big one: support the unsung hero of the local entrepreneur.
What do I mean by entrepreneur? I like Hamilton-Pennell's definition: "an entrepreneur is someone who perceives an opportunity and creates and grows an organization to pursue it."
What's so important about entrepreneurs? Consider the following:
* 97.5% of U.S. businesses have fewer than 20 employees. These small firms created 60-80% of the net new jobs over the past decade.
* Two-thirds of these net new jobs were created by firms 1 to 5 years old. They are responsible for half of the United States' non-farm real Gross Domestic Product.
* Half of the U.S. businesses are home-based.
Who are these entrepreneurs? We know a few things about them.
First, they comprise roughly 10% of the global population.
From 1996-2007, Americans between 55 and 64 had a higher rate of entrepreneurial activity than those aged 20-34. But don't count out the youngsters yet. The limited job market leads teens to consider entrepreneurship a viable - and maybe a necessary - alternative.
Here are a couple of interesting data points about "minorities:" more men than women start new businesses (maybe because more than 60% of businesses are self-financed).
But immigrants are far more likely to start new businesses than native born residents. How come? Well, think about it. Emigration takes, literally, a lot of get up and go.
One of the crucial factors about entrepreneurs is this: they're already right here in Douglas County. They don't have to be lured in with big breaks. They're probably not going to pull up and vanish. They chose to come here. They've raised their families here. They are part of our community.
And I said I know how to help them. It turns out that the main obstacles to entrepreneurial success are things the public library can readily overcome: a lack of knowledge of industry and market conditions and trends.
Specifically, entrepreneurs need to know:
* Who are my target customers?
* Who are my competitors?
* What are the characteristics of my market?
* What are the trends and developments in my industry?
For now, I can give this short piece of advice. Would-be entrepreneurs could start by looking at this website: douglascountylibraries.org/Research/iGuides/SmallBusiness.
But there's more to say about business in Douglas County, and more than one source of sound advice. Look here next week for news about an important cooperative project of the library and your local newspaper.
LaRue's Views are his own.