Over the last several years, the business media has extensively covered the economic challenges--and the role entrepreneurship plays in solving those challenges--facing non-coastal, rural, and middle America, including the amazing work being by done by innovators and local patriots in smaller communities like Erie, Pennsylvania, and Helena, Montana, and cities like St. Louis, Missouri, and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
In late 2019, after living in St. Louis for six years, I moved to Bellingham, Washington. My new city is roughly halfway between Seattle and Vancouver, British, Columbia. The move has illustrated a simple fact: There are multiple economic realities in America.
(Political rhetoric aside, there are far more than two Americas. The challenges faced by white male entrepreneurs, female entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs of color within a single metropolitan area are dramatically different. There are a thousand different Americas, and which one you live in depends on your skin color, gender, geography, your parents, the quality of your local public school system, luck, and too many other factors to list in this article.)
The influence geography has on opportunity is enormous.
It's one reason Opportunity Zones are such intriguing public policy.
And it's one reason Enoch Elwell founded CO.STARTERS. The organization, in existence since 2013, assists communities--many of which are far outside the type of booming coastal cities like the two I live near--to create thriving entrepreneurial ecosystems.
"Traditionally, the purpose of business and entrepreneurship has not been viewed primarily as a catalyst for community change," said Elwell. "We wanted to change that. A vibrant business community led by local entrepreneurs is one of the foundational ingredients of healthy communities. That's true in small mountain towns in New Zealand, and in large American cities like Phoenix. We've worked in both, and everything in between."
CO.STARTERS primarily partners with entrepreneurial ecosystem builders, economic development organizations, respected local entrepreneurs, and activists who want to see more entrepreneurship in their region. The training programs Elwell's team produces help better equip those ecosystem builders with the tools needed to create more entrepreneurial communities, as well as training for aspiring entrepreneurs.
"The shift from the industrial age to the connected age is one of the most dramatic economic changes humans will experience," said Elwell. "If we don't help prepare local communities for that transformation, we will see more polarization, anger, and frustration. People should have the opportunity to create an economically secure life, no matter where they live."
Elwell and his team are not exaggerating the importance of their work.
The economic opportunities available to people in the communities I write about and the one I live in can be dramatically different--even if wealthier coastal communities face their own challenges.
If that doesn't change, 2020 may one day seem like a bygone era where we all got along and generally liked one another.
And an America where 2020 seemed like an era of compatibility and peace is an America no one wants to experience.