Where Ideas Take Hold

we all have a role to play in developing the Chippewa Valley’s ‘yes culture’

Nick Meyer, illustrated by Kaitlyn Bryan

When Volume One just started and we were dropping off the first issue throughout the community, we were met with a fair amount of skeptical looks. There were sometimes comments too, about our inevitable failure or burnout, and even more about the lack of depth in our chosen subject matter: the Chippewa Valley. “Others had already tried this,” we were told. “It won’t work.” We felt there was a general sense among the more conventional population that our efforts may prove fruitless.

Where the major economic development power shift comes in – away from just the traditional institutions – is in how the “grow your own” approach also endows the individuals of a community with influence of their own... When it comes to fostering creativity and entrepreneurship in other people in our community – you are on the front lines of that every day.

But at the same time we found strong and active undercurrents of support. A few business leaders who invested in advertising. Writers and designers who wanted to help make an impact. And a small but growing reading public who were hungry for what we were creating. All were people who – through their words and actions – were saying, “Yes, we want this in our community.” Between these two poles – supporters and cynics – it was a mixed-bag of responses, which I suppose is normal. And thankfully for us, we had whatever combination of naiveté and audacity anybody with an idea must have to push it all forward. So here we sit today ... less than fruitless.

More than fruitless? We have some fruit.

With any idea, the external feedback people receive can be both subtle and overt, both public and private. And when navigating the unfamiliar territory of these ideas, those responses can really make an impact, either inspiring or discouraging. But what’s especially interesting is that such influences can be felt not only by the person receiving the feedback, but on all the other closet thinkers listening in and gauging the potential of their own ideas. There’s a feedback loop of either positive or negative energy that can affect the entrepreneurial spirit of any town.

I’m sure we’d all like a community where people feel energized and emboldened to go forth and start things. An environment where people with ideas – for businesses, products, or other creative endeavors – have access to the resources, funds, and knowledge needed to succeed in any new venture. They need that critical technical infrastructure – mentoring, loans, marketing – developed by local organizations and leaders. But to really feel the energy of their idea’s potential, they also need something more from the rest of us.

Creating a community where ideas can take hold takes the development of a strong “yes” culture – a collective way of thinking that helps foster people’s entrepreneurial tendencies and adds fuel to their fire. And in this regard, the Chippewa Valley community still has a ways to go. Don’t get me wrong: enormous strides have been made in recent years to remove both real and perceived barriers in these areas. We’re more open. We can better envision what success looks like. And we’re seeing more of our neighbors have it. These days it doesn’t seem so impossible for both big and small ideas to have their shot in the Chippewa Valley. And beyond. But we need to take it further.

These recent strides are partly due to a shift in thinking – both in individuals and institutions. The modern approach to economic development from the institutional perspective is less focused on trying to lure existing big companies through tax incentives and tired governmental programs. Today it’s more about being attentive to the needs of the small entrepreneurs – the “idea people” who are already among us, looking to build something new and creative. It’s a “grow your own” approach to economic success. And western Wisconsin is on the wagon in more ways than one.

However, where the major economic development power shift comes in – away from just the traditional institutions – is in how the “grow your own” approach also endows the individuals of a community with influence of their own. Sure, it’s hard for one person to convince big companies to bring their jobs here (heck, it’s hard for economic development institutions to do that). But when it comes to fostering creativity and entrepreneurship in other people in our community – well you are on the front lines of that every day. With your neighbors, co-workers, and family. It’s in how you think and talk about community ideas. It’s in your attitudes towards start-ups and those making a go of it – whether it’s a new store or restaurant, or your neighbor down the street with a new product line she’s trying to launch. We can all make an impact on the Chippewa Valley’s “yes” culture.

It’s with all this in mind that we’ve assembled our second “Start Up 2013” special section with support from RCU. It’s filled with stories and resources to help bring ideas to the surface. We believe a strong entrepreneurial culture is key to the future of Eau Claire and the surrounding communities. Hopefully something in the guide will connect some dots for you or someone you know. And whether those ideas grow into something big and bold, or if they stay small and nimble, they can all add value to our community. So put them out there. And for the rest of us, look for those great kernels of ideas materializing all around you, and say, “Yes.”

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