Growing the Warren County economy will require local entrepreneurs to be more involved.
That is what Steve Etcher, executive director of the Boonslick Regional Planning Commission, said during his annual presentation last week to the Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce.
Using the popular online interactive game “Call of Duty” as a backdrop, Etcher challenged area business leaders to be “personally engaged” in local economic development efforts.
“What we can do for our community?” Etcher asked. “There’s an abundance of opportunities for us, and we need to make it a priority.”
In preparation for this year’s presentation, Etcher said Chamber officials posed three questions to frame the presentation:
How do we, as businesses, move forward and become personally engaged in economic development?
How do we encourage our community to shop locally, keeping our businesses and our economy healthy?
How do we encourage businesses to move to the Warrenton area?
“Are we, as citizens and businesses, going to answer our call of duty to participate in the economic future of our community, get engaged and get involved in what’s going on?” Etcher asked. “I want to challenge you to answer the call of duty and get involved in Warren County.”
He also urged the business community and area leaders in attendance to mentor other small businesses and share their experiences.
“You have talents and resources that we need you to engage in the local community” such as marketing, financial management and organizational skills, Etcher remarked. He noted that as those skills are shared, it will be beneficial to the local economy.
Etcher noted that there are two major challenges facing small businesses in the Warrenton area — the amount of retail trade occurring via the Internet and the number of people who leave the county to go to work.
“Seventy percent of retail trade occurs on the Internet,” Etcher said. “That’s a huge challenge to our local retailers.”
Additionally, he pointed out that nearly 80 percent of Warren County’s work force travels outside the county for work.
“These are trends we need to reverse,” he said.
He said the strategy to reverse the existing trends is for businesses to pay attention to what their customers want, which include:
Choice, cost, convenience, customer service and quality.
“If we pay attention to those, we’ll be somewhat successful at reversing the trend for Internet sales,” he said, also encouraging businesses to promote their competitive advantages.
Etcher also said the business community needs to be familiar with the area’s strengths and weaknesses.
“When a business is looking at a community, they want to be where they know the skills and talents exist to enable them to be globally competitive,” he asserted. “If we are not cultivating a work force with very flexible, very dynamic, very transferrable skills, we’re not going to have success in growing those businesses.
“We can’t continue to train our workers for the skills and the jobs that are declining from our population,” he added. “We have to train our workers for the jobs that will be part of our future economy.”
‘A Global Movement’
“Entrepreneurialism is a global movement right now,” Etcher said. “Sustained growth comes from the citizens who are living in the community. We have to train and encourage those citizens to create successful small businesses.”
Etcher also referred to a philosophy known as “economic gardening,” explaining that it is an approach calling for “growing economies from the inside out. We need to promote entrepreneurship within our community, to promote and support small business development and we need to encourage existing businesses to expand.”
However, he also said that new firms need to be attracted to the community.
“What are industry trends and clusters that are critical to our region?” Etcher asked.
“Not all businesses will fit in all communities,” he continued. “Every community has its own niche. What is our niche?”
Etcher said the Greater Warren County Economic Development Council is promoting an aggressive marketing campaign focusing on the strengths of the Warren County area.
He said those strengths include transportation access, the area’s work force and its quality of life.
“What can we do to support our existing businesses while at the same time creating an attractive place for new businesses to set up shop?”
At the same time, he said communities also must change to respond to the needs of the surrounding area.
“To be globally competitive, we have to continually transform ourselves to stay on the cutting edge,” Etcher said. “The core of that transformation will be our work force skills.”