A community of growth: the power of local businesses


Kat Sarafianos

[dropcap style=”flat”]T[/dropcap]he idea of the Midwest often brings to mind stereotypes filled with age old tropes of unsatisfied adults and teenagers who just want to get away. But take a look at Columbia residents who stay to start their own businesses and that stereotype fades.
“Any population disadvantages [being in Columbia brings] versus the big cities are more than made up for in the impact you can make in a smaller city,” B&B Bagel Company owner Brad Newkirk said. “It is easy to get lost and harder to be recognized as the best in big cities. Also people in smaller towns really rally behind local businesses.”
Columbia’s business community is filled with local stores unique to the area and enjoy the support of loyal local patrons. According to Forbes, less than 50 percent of small businesses survive more than 5 years, yet loyal customers are why Gregory Bier, the director of the University of Missouri’s Entrepreneurship Alliance, thinks Columbia is an exceptional town to start a business in.
“Columbia, probably more than other communities, supports the ‘buy local and buy small’ aspects of shopping, especially when it comes to retail,” Bier said. “The real benefit of starting a business in your home town is that you should already be able to tap into your parents’ and teachers’ networks of folks that will help [the business] out. Entrepreneurship is absolutely a team sport so you’ll need a network of supporters and mentors.”
Jeremy Brown, owner of the local restaurants Sophia’s and Addison’s agrees with Bier’s assessment of Columbia and the perks of starting a business in one’s hometown. Brown says the familiarity with the market and the ability to network with people one has known for a long time are invaluable.
“Local consumer support is absolutely very important to our businesses… and we do most of our business with local patrons,” Brown said. “I think Columbia is a good city for business due to the stable economy and solid core of income generators such as the University of Missouri and other higher education. [quote]Having local restaurants and businesses lends to Columbia’s  uniqueness and vibrancy.[/quote]”
It’s not just the loyal patrons and stable economy that convince business owners to stay in Columbia, but the educational programs in place that encourage entrepreneurship at a young age. The University of Missouri-Columbia holds MizBiz every year, an introductory entrepreneurship camp for teenagers and middle schoolers. RBHS freshman Kaity Roberts completed the camp in the summer of 2014 and loved her experience. Over the five day course she came up with her own business and pitched it to three judges.
“MizBiz helped me learn many new things as an entrepreneur and I loved  it. I essentially learned how to start my own business completely by myself and how to convince a room full of about 50 people and a panel of judges why they should buy my product,” Roberts said. “I actually started my own nonprofit called Saving Soldiers. My main goal was to raise $1,000 by the end of that summer to give to Welcome Home, a local veterans shelter, for the funding of building a new shelter to take in homeless veterans.”
Roberts handmade over 100 paracord bracelets and sold them for $10 each. She ended up reaching more than her goal and presented the $1000 check to a veteran at Welcome Home on Veterans day in 2014. She says the biggest thing Miz Biz taught her was the power of local businesses.
“I think local businesses are really important,” Roberts said. “They reach out to the community in which [they are in]… to get more people involved and set goals to make the community better as well. For example, my slogan [for my non-profit] was that for every bracelet sold a veteran is saved.”
Starting young and instilling the importance of local community values at a young age is important to encourage businesses, Brown said. For him, it was the teachers at RBHS that did that.

“Having teachers and staff that believed in you, regardless of your social status, [was the most prevalent thing I felt at RBHS,]” Brown said. “My advice for opening a business is work harder and more efficiently than your peers. Do not fall into the trap of mediocrity and doing just enough to get by.”
How does your town support local businesses?