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PROS & CONS: Entrepreneurship in the Valley

V1 Staff

OK, you want to start a business. You can’t control every factor that could lead to success or failure, but there is one major element you can: geography. So should you pack up your amazing idea and head elsewhere, or is the Chippewa Valley the place to be for a budding businessperson like yourself? We queried local entrepreneurial experts about the pros and cons of beginning a business right here at home.

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Jim Mishefske, director of the UW-Eau Claire Small Business Development Center

PRO: Keeping it local. “The community is supportive of locally owned businesses, which is a real pro. We, as a community, we support grassroots businesses over large, out-of-town corporations.”

PRO: Sociable small town. “You can really get a word-of-mouth strategy. it’s easy to connect with people in a small community.”

PRO: Available capital. “I think we are more conservative, but I don’t think our financial institutions are more conservative than elsewhere.”

CON: Brain drain. “I think as a community we have a trouble with brain drain. The larger communities seem to steal our rising stars.”

PRO: Higher education. “I think we have a really strong education system in the community, with UW-Eau Claire and CVTC. There’s a lot of smart people in town.”

CON: People tend to be risk-averse. “A lot of (entrepreneurs) are on their first or second try on a business, and sometimes it takes more tries to be successful.”

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Karman Briggs, director of jobs and business development for Western Dairyland Community Action Agency

PRO: Quality of life. “This is vague, but the Chippewa Valley is a great place to start a business because people want to live here. People start businesses because they intentionally want to live here rather than get a job in some other part of the world.”

PRO: Workforce. “With UWEC, CVTC and Globe (University), Eau Claire is churning out a large number of highly educated, skilled and talented young adults craving meaningful and challenging employment opportunities. As entrepreneurs grow their businesses, they have the opportunity to recruit and employ fresh grads who are raring to go.”

CON: Lack of market. “Eau Claire lacks the size of a large metropolitan area. This can create a problem in attracting a large enough customer base to support your business. However, in this day and age, successful businesses are born global. It is no different for entrepreneurs in the Chippewa Valley. There is simply no longer a reason or excuse to limit your market to your immediate geographic region.”

PRO:  Art scene. “Eau Claire’s creative class has developed and grown in size and self-respect in the past few years. That translates into Eau Claire being an environment that truly values and encourages ingenuity and entrepreneurship.”

PRO: Financial resources. “Unlike other parts of the country or even the state, there are a number of business financing options available to entrepreneurs in the Chippewa Valley through the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, the city of Eau Claire and, of course, all the traditional lenders.”

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Brian Doudna, executive director of the Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corp.

PRO: Available financing. “Most of the financial gaps have been addressed to the point where I’m not saying everyone will get a loan, but the programs that are structured and have a management strategy can start to move forward.”

PRO: Market size. “Our geographic market is large enough that you can reach it and the three communities in it without a lot of difficulty. ... If it sells here, you know you have the ability to go elsewhere.”

CON: Lack of mentors. “There isn’t a good mentoring network in place yet, but that’s something that hopefully we’ll have in the next couple of years.”

PRO: Access to technology at UW-Eau Claire’s Materials Science Center, UW-Stout’s Discover Center, and Chippewa Valley Technical College’s NanoRite Innovation Center. “The technical assistance available is top-notch.”

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Don Parkhurst, Linda Putnam, Al Rolland, and Barb Rolland, certified counselors for SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives)

PRO: Available resources. “One of our strong points here is we have a couple of very active groups (for entrepreneurs). The economic development committees do a fine job. They offer an awful lot of help to people who want to start a business.”

PRO: Family-friendly community. “It’s a conservative community, but it’s very family-oriented with good school systems. That’s attractive for people who want to start a business here. They always have ask this question: ‘How is this going to affect my family?’ ”

CON: Inflated expectations. “When we do talk to our clientele, most of them are looking for free money, and there’s no free money out there.”

PRO: Affordable labor costs. “In this market there’s so many people looking for work. Wages are competitive with other communities.”