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Economic developers attend KC summit to discuss growing entrepreneurial communities

Last month’s Growing Entrepreneurial Communities Summit drew over 200 economic developers to Kansas City to discuss and share best practices in growing entrepreneurial communities in their home states.

The summit was the second of its kind, following up 2016’s inaugural event.

“We designed this conference as a practitioner summit,” said Dell Gines, senior community development advisor for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Omaha Office. “The intent is to build our national infrastructure of entrepreneurship-led economic development.”

This year’s summit, subtitled Entrepreneurship on the Edges, focused on providing information and practitioner insight into how to effectively develop disadvantaged urban and rural communities using entrepreneurship-led economic development strategies.

The objective of the summit is to strengthen the field of entrepreneurship development and entrepreneurship ecosystem building across the nation.

This year’s participants came from across the country and included representatives in the fields of academia, research facilities, foundations, economic developers, as well as other practitioners and government.

“The summit participants are the people in your community who work diligently and tirelessly every day to make sure the people in their communities have equal access to economic development and prosperity tools, not just for a certain segment of society, but for all,” said Gines. “There are few things greater than that.”

The summit was a collaboration between the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, Edward Lowe Foundation, NetWork Kansas and SourceLink.

“As builders of entrepreneurial infrastructures, we have a common goal: to connect entrepreneurs to the resources they need to succeed,” said Maria Meyers, founder of KCSourceLink and SourceLink. “Over the past 15 years, communities have recognized what entrepreneurs can do to drive innovation, build talent and solve problems in our communities.”

Brent Comstock, founder of Auburn-based BCom Solutions, presented at the summit and shared his insights into the myth of the urban-rural divide, and what challenges developing communities really need to address.

Comstock believes that 90 percent of the rural-urban divide is a fallacy and that his audience of economic developers, power-players and small business representatives at the summit need to understand that.

“The conversation I had with the participants was this idea of building successful and sustainable technology companies in a rural community that aren’t based on the edge of what’s good for a small town, but how do you build a successful company regardless of the zipcode,” said Comstock. “How can they recognize and understand what’s important in a tech business in a rural community is no different than what’s important in an urban environment?”

Comstock drew on his own experiences for the presentation, sharing his story of moving from Auburn to North Carolina, then back to Nebraska, as well as his role in running a venture capital firm that invests in Baltic-region startups.

“I went through four or five key entrepreneurial insights that I have learned along the way,” said Comstock. “One of the large portions being community building and this idea of teaching and training your team members to be experts instead of workers. [Also] the idea that a successful startup isn’t based on zip code, it’s based on how good you are at what you do and how do you foster an environment that lets people feel free to do and become the expert in their area of industry.”

The summit organizers hope that Comstock’s presentation, as well as the presentations of the other speakers, will help elevate the conversations surrounding economic development and the growth of entrepreneurial communities.

“We still have a long way to go to make leaders see entrepreneurial creation as one of the key pillars of economic development, alongside attraction and retention,” said Meyers. “Then the world—and our doers, dreamers and makers, the heart of the American spirit—will win.”

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Christine Burright McGuigan is the Managing Editor of Silicon Prairie News.

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