Imagine you're on the set of Shark Tank, but instead of sharks, you're surrounded by dolphins.
And instead of having to see your business brutalized by the so-called "experts," you get firm but loving support from a community as determined as you to see your baby flourish well into adulthood.
Welcome to Amarillo, Texas, where everybody knows your name--which makes it one of the most business-friendly local economies in the country.
Says David Terry, co-founder of the West Texas A&M University Enterprise Center, "Amarillo is a place where everybody wants you to succeed. I think our clients at the Enterprise Center feel like this is one place they can come and know that everybody wants their success."
Terry is one of the driving forces behind the Amarillo EnterPrize Challenge, a program of the Enterprise Center, a business incubator designed to help entrepreneurs expand existing businesses or launch new ones.
Funded by the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation (AEDC), the EnterPrize Challenge is the largest business-planning competition in the United States.
Entrants must be involved in exporting goods and services, which brings money into the local economy, and that 75% of their revenue must come from outside of Amarillo. These entrants are then assisted with the entire business-planning process, complete with coaching.
In the next phase, they submit a one-page investor sheet to the judges. The top 15 are brought in for final presentations, and a total of $500,000 in capital funding grants is then awarded to multiple winners (no single entrant is awarded more than $100,000).
Terry thinks of the EnterPrize Challenge as the bedrock on which Amarillo-based businesses stand tall. Take, for example, Sage Oil Vac, a family-owned farm business that reinvented itself as a manufacturer of a highly innovative oil vacuuming system.
"[Sage Oil] was our first client and graduate of the Enterprise Center. Once they graduated from here, they built a 24,000-square-foot building and hired up to 25 people, and now the cool thing is that Gary Sage [the founder] is retired," says Terry.
The business-friendly Amarillo skies don't cater only to homegrown businesses, though. The AEDC has a clear strategy to woo global players to Amarillo on a regular basis.
Case in point: Bell Helicopter and Tyson Foods, to name just a couple of global brands that call Amarillo home.
What sets Amarillo apart from the crowd, according to AEDC's senior vice president for business development, Brian Jennings, is the "cradle-to-grave project management" that the AEDC provides.
"Not only are we going out and getting that client company; we're also taking a position with them so that we can make sure they have all the service providers within the community that they need," says Jennings.
"Many times, we'll build the building for them. We'll release that building back to them on a long-term basis, and then we monitor the performance on an ongoing basis to make sure that they're hitting their marks."
Jennings cites Bell Helicopter as a perfect example. "We've invested about $130 million in Bell. We own the majority of the buildings that they operate at the airport, and their performance requirements are based on jobs and direct local expenditures," he says.
"They embody everything you want to see within a community. Large construction. Core product. A product that has got to be ever-changing so that they ensure they survive."
In Amarillo, it doesn't matter if your business is small or large. What matters is the drive to succeed, the grit to knuckle down, and the passion to build the future.
As Jennings says: "We want [businesses] to be profitable and happy in Amarillo. They're not forgotten after they've done a project with us. In fact, that's when a lot of the work really begins."