By Erik Pedersen
President and Chief Operating Officer
Courtesy photo: Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmuMJDOnIDM
I assume most of you who read this are huge fans of King of Queens like I am, mostly because I can't imagine anyone not loving that show! (Surely, you all know Doug and Carrie Heffernan, Deacon Palmer and Carrie's dad Arthur, who lives in the basement, right? If not, you really need to expand your list of TV shows. Ha!).
One of my favorite episodes is when Deacon's son, Kirby, is playing pee wee football and Deacon asks Doug to help coach the team. In one scene, during practice, Deacon leaves to go pick up the game jerseys and Doug decides to have the offense and defense scrimmage against each other...except Doug will be the Quarterback. His ego takes over and he runs over, around and through the little 2nd graders. Deacon returns in time to watch Doug high-step into the endzone and he angrily says to him, "What are you doing?" Doug replies with a line that makes me laugh every time I hear it: "What am I doing? What am I not doing? I'm gaining 17 yards a carry, I'm threading the needle. You should have seen me."
As I listen to the E-Community staff give updates on the numerous and varied strategic areas that they are working in and on with their most engaged E-Communities, that King of Queens line fits perfectly....."What am I doing? What am I not doing?"
The economic development directors, chamber directors, foundation directors, entrepreneurs, private sector citizens, retirees and the other volunteers that make up 66 E-Community leadership teams are doing some absolutely amazing things. When I take time to think about the way this E-Community Partnership has grown over the past 12 years, it makes me want to write a book and deliver it to you via IPS of course (another King of Queens reference, but some of you knew that).
First is the money. The most visible part of E-Community is the loan fund. It's the area that always gets people's attention - gap financing to local businesses, what a difference maker it has proven to be. I love hearing bankers tell us that a deal wouldn't have been able to get done without this fund. Since the inception in 2008, the E-Communities have approved 794 loans to 757 businesses, totaling $25.8 million. That money has leveraged $119.4 million of bank loans and public capital. The average loan is $32,800 and the breakdown of businesses receiving the loans speaks to its' importance in rural Kansas: 42% startups and 32% expansions; 49% service, 28% retail and 18% restaurant; 48% in towns with a population under 5,000 and of those, 12% are in towns under 1,000.
794 loans, $25.8 million of E-Community loans, all coordinated by the local economic development professionals that act as our E-Community point person. In addition, they have the creativity and smarts to also understand and use (or maybe even stack together) other NetWork Kansas loan programs (Kansas Community Investment Fund, Kansas Healthy Food Initiative, etc..) for the good of the entrepreneurs in their community.
However, as we've said from the start, the E-Community fund serves another purpose and that's to give our coaches a seat at the table...err, I mean a seat on the bus (thanks to Simone Elder for convincing me that a table is static, but a bus is always moving). These talented people (Ciara, Sarah, Christy and Jenn, along with Amara and Bailee on the technical assistance and programming side) work side-by-side with the local leadership teams to lead strategic discussions about how to move the economic needle in their community, set goals, and make progress on those goals in a way that helps stir the pot and create a thriving ecosystem. This "engagement with local leadership teams" is where this partnership really shows what can happen when talented people and progressive communities come together and ask "what can we do together"? The answer to that question might be a program we host, like Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge (54 events this year, easily over 1,000 students, leading to the Kansas Entrepreneurship Challenge state championship), or Growing Rural Businesses (currently happening in Great Bend after taking place in Dodge City during the Fall) or Maker Space Boot Camp (I believe 8-10 E-Communities are taking what they learned at Fab Lab Independence Community College and working to build towards one in their community). Or, and here's where it really blows my mind, check out this list of things our coaches and E-Communities have partnered on over just the past year alone: bankers roundtable, countywide reading programs around Ice House Entrepreneurial Mindset, creating collaborative partnerships to fund and support minority loan funds, housing studies, lunch & learns with local resource partners, workforce summits, STEM camps, a Women to Women Entrepreneurship Series, a town-hall meeting to discuss the need for a grocery store, presenting to college business classes, adult pitch competitions, working with community foundations on impact investing, grand openings for community projects and businesses, and even assisting economic development leaders with job descriptions and reorganization structure ideas.
Wow, what a list! What an amazing intersection of economic development and community development initiatives and projects. We are very honored to work alongside so many smart economic development professionals and passionate citizens that are working to make their community stronger and more vibrant.
So, whenever I ask one of our 66 E-Communities or one of our staff "What are you doing?", they have every right to respond to me: "What am I doing? What am I not doing?"