In the suburbs of Phoenix, Tyler Copenhaver-Heath and his team at Apex Customs have built one of the most innovative custom car shops in the country. The company began with a single bay, four-hundred-square-foot shop in 2013. The bay wasn't the only solitary aspect of Apex. As the owner and founder, Copenhaver-Heath was also the company's sole employee.
Things are much different today. Apex has grown to multiple locations with a combined 45,000 square feet and several buildings. The company has sixteen employees, and has built custom projects for the Rolling Stones, the NFL, CNN, WWE, and Facebook, among others--though celebrity builds do not comprise the majority of Apex's work.
Apex Customs also has plans to grow, with more buildings and additional square footage coming soon.
The business and entrepreneurship focused media often gets caught up covering the moonshot unicorn companies that have aspirations of changing the world. Sometimes those companies are worth the attention they get.
And sometimes they aren't.
(See Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos--and pretty much every dot.com, with the exception of Amazon, from the late 1990s.)
But smaller companies like Apex Customs are the backbone of thriving local and national economies. Businesses that can weather fifteen years of economic ups and downs--while steadily growing and creating jobs along the way--are what build resilient and successful communities.
Building a company that can support one person is extraordinarily difficult. Building a company that can support sixteen people is an incredible achievement--especially when that company is earning its way, rather than surviving on venture capital.
The momentum behind entrepreneurship and homegrown economic development happening is a real thing. Supporting local entrepreneurs is the best economic development strategy for any community. I've been fortunate enough to travel to cities as big as Denver and as small as Helena, Montana, to see that momentum and that sort of sustainable economic development strategy in person.
However, it's important for civic and business leadership in cities outside of Silicon Valley to remember that entrepreneurship isn't just about the next Instagram/Facebook/Snapchat/fill-in-the-blank unicorn. Successful job creators are usually subject-matter experts who see an opportunity to innovate by doing a better job than the competition.
Which is exactly what Tyler Copenhaver-Heath and his team at Apex Customs have done.