Startup 365 Washington to focus on organic job growth

It’s a hard lesson some communities must learn along the way. A big company leaves, and with it jobs. Hopes of a new employer coming to town are dashed by intense competition and deep pockets. In need of work, people move away, and when they do, the very soul of the community withers and wastes away.

But there is a way to retain that intellectual wealth and economic vitality. By focusing on entrepreneurship and small businesses, communities can flourish organically, creating jobs, filling empty storefronts and keeping future generations engaged and in residence.

Spearheaded by the Washington State Department of Commerce’s Business Services Division, the state’s new Startup 365 Washington strategy is designed to keep economic and intellectual wealth in communities throughout Washington. The strategy has not only gained the support of local economic developers, but is part of Governor Inslee’s long-term economic development efforts to create more jobs statewide.

This year’s Global Entrepreneurship Week, Nov. 17-23, will serve as the official kickoff for Startup 365 Washington. Every county in the state – all 39 – are hosting GEW events and bringing the entrepreneurial spirit to communities large and small. The weeklong celebration of more than 80 events promises to engage thousands of budding entrepreneurs throughout Washington, from elementary school kids involved in lemonade stand events to veterans and retirees exploring new career options.

“Organic economic development is a fundamental driver of local economies. Not so long ago, people went to where the jobs were, which usually meant urban centers,” says Maury Forman, Senior Manager for the Department of Commerce’s Business Services Division. “This caused a serious drain on communities as rural towns became bedroom communities instead of building and retaining their youth, their own economic vitality and intellectual wealth.

“Our goal with Startup 365 Washington is to re-energize these communities with the entrepreneurial spirit, whether they are small towns or major urban centers. Technology allows people to live and work where they want to these days and it is our goal to give them the tools, resources, education and training needed to start a business anywhere in the state. Entrepreneurship is not just about education; it’s about successful adulthood.”

According to Forman, growing small businesses and developing entrepreneurs is an overlooked economic strategy. Most states focus on recruiting and retaining major corporations, often at tremendous expense. But in reality, small businesses and entrepreneurs drive the economy. The Small Business Administration estimates that more than 65% of the new jobs created since 1995 were generated by small businesses and that over half of the working population are employed by small businesses. Last year alone, first-year companies created more than one million jobs.

One of the unique aspects of the Startup 365 Washington strategy is its emphasis on youth. Many of the programs are geared to children as young as elementary school age, exposing students to the basic processes of creating and running a business.

“The Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, JK Rowling and Cher Wang of tomorrow are in school right now,” says Forman. “They are at an age when the thought of going into business isn’t outlandish, but second nature. This early exposure to starting and running a business will not only alter the course of their career trajectory, but benefit the communities in which they live. After graduation, they won’t feel as compelled to leave their hometown. Instead, they can create a sustainable business that has the potential to drive the local economy for decades to come.”

Washington has learned over the years that entrepreneurship is a home-grown economic strategy that can have tremendous multiplier effects on a community, and on the state at large.

“Economic growth in rural areas is going to come from communities growing their own businesses through programs supporting entrepreneurs rather than coveting someone else’s business,” says Forman.

To further the Startup 365 Washington strategy, the state has set up this website. When GEW is through, this site will be expanded to include links, videos, articles, blogs, education and training materials and other resources that will help budding entrepreneurs plan their businesses, refine their ideas, find funding and learn how to grow their businesses successfully. 

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