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Indiana bill enhances rural areas for young entrepreneurs

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Let’s face it, the scores of small towns dotting the Hoosier landscape aren’t exactly magnets for young entrepreneurs aspiring to build companies.

But a bill introduced by Sue Ellspermann, R-Ferdinand, and signed by Gov. Mitch Daniels March 22, could help stem the tide of population and job losses plaguing so many communities.

“It’s not going to solve world hunger, but it might create 50 to 100 new businesses,” she said. “If one in 100 becomes a large company, that would be fabulous.”

The legislation, introduced as House Bill 1251, mandates the Indiana Economic Development Corp. to establish a young entrepreneurs program. It would promote business proposals of graduates of entrepreneurship programs at certain state universities by conducting an annual “auction” in which communities would bid to host their startup.

The program costs virtually nothing to launch, which might have influenced the unanimous votes in both the House and Senate favoring the legislation.

IEDC spokeswoman Blair West said the agency is on board with the proposal.

“I think the universities have been very supportive of this,” she said. “We’re quite accustomed to partnering with them on economic development projects.”

Indeed, the bill was backed by Ball State, Indiana and Purdue universities, and the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville—Ellspermann’s employer.

Ball State and IU offer majors in entrepreneurship, while Purdue and USI offer minors.

As director of USI’s center for applied research, which Ellspermann founded in 2006, she pairs faculty, staff and students with companies in need of research data.

The University of Southern Indiana introduced an entrepreneurship minor two years ago. But what most entrepreneurship programs lack, Ellspermann asserted, is guidance after graduation.

“If you were in any other major—education or business—you would go to the placement office,” she said. “But there is no mechanism today to encourage those students to start those businesses.”

That’s where Ellspermann thinks her plan can help graduates no more than three years removed from an entrepreneurship program.

They would submit their business plans annually to IEDC, which would review them to ensure legitimacy. IEDC then would invite community and economic development leaders from across the state to hear student pitches including a list of preferred locations.

Officials from listed communities, in turn, would create a bid package to lure a potential business to their city. Office space, fiber-optic availability or simple geographic needs might help recruit a startup, Ellspermann said.

Professors at IU’s Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation and Ball State University’s Entrepreneurship Center support the concept but expressed a few concerns.

Mark Long, a clinical professor at IU’s Johnson Center, is a former president and CEO of the Indiana University Emerging Technologies Center, the Indianapolis location where fledgling companies attempt to turn research into products and services.

What’s particularly vexing for Long is, how would the smaller communities targeted by Ellspermann’s bill compete with the bigger cities for the entrepreneurs, which may be more alluring to young business owners?

And even if they do set up shop in, say, Bedford or Paoli, will they stay? Long wondered.

“How are you going to keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen the big city; well, then what?” he asked. “It’s great in theory, but how will this really be executed and really play out?”

Ellspermann argued that the state’s Office of Community and Rural Affairs, which provides resources and technical assistance to small communities, has offered to support the towns in their efforts to attract new business.

Still, a company’s success rests on the old adage—location, location, location, said Susan Clark Muntean, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Ball State.

“If it’s taking them away from where they need to be for business reasons, it could cause them to fail,” she said.

Ultimately, Ellspermann conceded, if the program fails to deliver tangible results, the IEDC can pull its support.

Ellspermann’s home county of Dubois boasted a healthy 6.6-percent unemployment rate in January—the fifth-lowest in the state. By comparison, the state’s overall rate was 9.1 percent.

Corporations such as Ferdinand-based residential upholstery manufacturer Best Home Furnishings Inc., as well as furniture and electronics manufacturer Kimball International Inc. and Jasper Engines & Transmissions, both in Jasper, have kept the county’s unemployment rate in check, Ellspermann said.

Still, smaller towns in her district such as Huntingburg, Rockport and Tell City continue to lose population, she maintained.

“Bringing that high-intellect, 25-year-old in to start a business could help,” she said.•

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  • Kaufman Foundation - Collaboration
    I recently participated in a 1 Million Cup session sponsored by the Kaufman Foundation in Kansas City, MO. It would be great to have the kind of support for all entrepreneurs in Indiana.
  • From the "YOUNG"
    Hi, I'm a young entrepreneur and recent graduate of an entrepreneurship program. I will be applying for this wonderful opportunity, and I am extremely thankful for the opportunity. This program is not exactly "age limiting", but rather "experience limiting". It is designed for the those with recent training at a university, from any age bracket. Unfortunately it does exclude those not educated at a university, or informally trained in apprenticeships, the older alumni, university entrepreneurs not enrolled in a program, and the very young entrepreneurs who are pre-college. I am very grateful for the opportunity, it is a once in a lifetime chance. I will continue to advocate for programs like this for all entrepreneurs, and pray that opportunities like this become common in Indiana as we celebrate the innovator, the tinkerer, and the entrepreneur.

    LY
  • Yes, Only the Young
    Denver, I DO think the proposed plan is meant to be age limiting. The whole article is dotted with words like "young", "students", "universities", and even the sentence "...Ellspermann thinks her plan can help graduates no more than three years removed from an entrepreneurship program". Denver, your enthusiasm is evident in your comment, but the article is pretty clear that this is age discriminitory. As JC stated..."only the young". Such a shame.
  • love
    me and my friend are working on a project for school. were focusing on rural.
  • Interesting
    Too bad we do not have a forward looking EDC that is on top of this one.
  • Open Opportunity
    JC, I don't think the purposed plan is meant to be age limiting. Being an entrepreneur is, as it sounds like you know, about ideas, hard work and dedication. Being backed by state universities, I'm sure there will be a slant in targeted participants towards recent college graduates, but there is still a lot of opportunity to be had by ANY entrepreneur. I'm definitely curious to learn/hear more about a town's interest in hosting/bidding for these companies and plans for keeping them local once established but there's clear potential.
  • Age bracket only!
    Nice, But, another age descrimination application.
    Only the "Young"

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  1. Those of you yelling to deport them all should at least understand that the law allows minors (if not from a bordering country) to argue for asylum. If you don't like the law, you can petition Congress to change it. But you can't blindly scream that they all need to be deported now, unless you want your government to just decide which laws to follow and which to ignore.

  2. 52,000 children in a country with a population of nearly 300 million is decimal dust or a nano-amount of people that can be easily absorbed. In addition, the flow of children from central American countries is decreasing. BL - the country can easily absorb these children while at the same time trying to discourage more children from coming. There is tension between economic concerns and the values of Judeo-Christian believers. But, I cannot see how the economic argument can stand up against the values of the believers, which most people in this country espouse (but perhaps don't practice). The Governor, who is an alleged religious man and a family man, seems to favor the economic argument; I do not see how his position is tenable under the circumstances. Yes, this is a complicated situation made worse by politics but....these are helpless children without parents and many want to simply "ship" them back to who knows where. Where are our Hoosier hearts? I thought the term Hoosier was synonymous with hospitable.

  3. Illegal aliens. Not undocumented workers (too young anyway). I note that this article never uses the word illegal and calls them immigrants. Being married to a naturalized citizen, these people are criminals and need to be deported as soon as humanly possible. The border needs to be closed NOW.

  4. Send them back NOW.

  5. deport now

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