Is it possible to combine entrepreneurial ambition with community life?
It is possible to combine entrepreneurial ambition with community life. Here's how five of the best hometown businesses in America have done it
These days it seems improbable, if not impossible, for a company to grow significantly while maintaining strong local roots and community connections. After all, isn't growing up about leaving home?
Maybe not. Sure, the volumes of people who want to start hometown companies from scratch -- and who want to stay put -- face significant obstacles. Big-box retailers all but obliterate the local hardware store, pharmacy, and bookstore, eroding the vitality of Main Streets. The Internet makes commerce less dependent on personal relationships than on speed and convenience. Large consumer-goods companies aggressively seek out the lion's share of even the smallest markets. Routinely, it seems that success is predicated on the extent to which a company can outgrow its hometown. And so when a local company does succeed -- and we found many that have -- it's clearly no accident.
It's easy to overlook the familiar, and difficult to think of the company down the street as a place where one might unearth a wealth of management expertise. But that's exactly what we found. We searched for businesses that not only were firmly rooted in their communities but were thriving in their hometowns -- businesses whose absence would leave their communities literally or figuratively poorer. The ones we uncovered are creative, tenacious, and highly focused. In all cases, they have found ways to overcome the obstacles that local businesses confront; they've hit upon strategies not easily replicable by their Goliath competitors. Through the products they manufacture, the ways in which they serve their customers, and their methods for managing their employees or serving their communities, they have found fertile ground in which to sow the seeds of success.
Here, then, are the stories of five companies whose owners have done what many of us long to do -- they have built vital enterprises and tethered connections to their communities. By their very existence they show that geography does matter and that there are tremendous advantages to deliberately linking the fate of your company to a specific place, despite the inherent risks. You get a life along with a business.