In April, 2013, I intentionally started building long-term authentic relationships with business owners, executives, entrepreneurs, investors, developers, and visionaries doing extraordinary work. The president of a manufacturing business with an extensive global footprint. A dance studio owner who has danced around the world. An engineering firm manager with a global project portfolio. An entrepreneur developing a smartphone prototype. The founder and owner of a phone app business that will change the way we purchase goods and services. A national marketing guru known for turning around Fortune 500 companies. The owner of a start-up artisanal micro-brewery that sources its own organic hops. An attorney who cut his teeth with Silicon Valley tech start-ups. An entrepreneur-in-residence with a powerful track record of starting successful companies who is now, along with an equally entrepreneurial colleague, working to build an entrepreneurial "ecosystem." An individual building a community of angel investors to support high-growth/high-tech start-ups.
All of this, and more, in my backyard of Lincoln, NE. Well, it's a big backyard that includes Omaha and Ord, and all of the other 560 Nebraska cities and towns.
Reflecting on my conversations and observations generally, there is a very vibrant economic habitat in the place where I have resided for over 35 years. With 25 years of experience in economic, community, and business development throughout the U.S. and a stint in Australia, I am comfortable saying that Nebraska is a place where both innovative start-ups and existing firms are broadening their global footprint in the 21st Century.
One sign of this vibrancy is in the work of two visionaries and fellow Lincolnites -- Brian Ardinger and Todd Long. They co-founded The Big Plate, which is a community of entrepreneurs-in-development. To paraphrase Brian, they are building an entrepreneurial "ecosystem" that includes, but is not limited to, mentoring entrepreneurs and start-ups, supporting co-working spaces, profiling entrepreneurs and start-up owners in case studies, and sponsoring numerous informal gatherings and "table talks." It’s grass-roots organizing for business-minded people.
Their efforts have strong appeal. Without getting too abstract, that notion of building an ecosystem is grounded in economics. As a recovering economist, I recognize that the root word eco was born from the Greek word oikos, which means "house". We are as much in-habitants of our economy as we are of our homes. Our economic habitat is a grassroots ecosystem rich in local knowledge and wisdom that gives shape to a prosperous economic, social, and cultural arc for the entrepreneurs and people who started, manage, and work at these businesses, whether small or large, start-up or mature.
And, speaking of mature, another sign of vibrancy is in the innovative work of Dominic Pynes and the crew at Geist Plastics. Dominic is the president of Geist Plastics. Founded in 1948, Geist Manufacturing went through several business iterations, including an acquisition in the late 1990s. Today, a tour of the Geist Plastics facility brings you face-to-face with the inner-workings of an inter-industry supply chain that literally delivers food from-the-field-to-the-table. They manufacture the vertical plastic tubes that bring water from the top of center pivot irrigation units closer to the crops growing in the fields. This conserves water, an increasingly scarce world-wide resource, and permits larger crop yields. Since Geist Plastics original equipment manufacturer customers are doing business world-wide, their products are used in Asia, Europe, Latin America, Australia, Canada, South Africa, and, of course, throughout the U.S.
In the space left open by the Great Economic Disruption of 2008, these are but two Nebraska examples of the vibrant economic habitat in Nebraska. In this space, the innovators and entrepreneurs are building start-ups. Businesses that were start-ups seven decades ago incorporate innovation and entrepreneurial talent to blaze a global market pathway. This is attributed to the convergence of advanced technology, wider bandwidth, the INTERNET, patents, and intellectual property and what Beth Comstock, chief marketing officer at GE, writes about in the May 2013 Harvard Business Review -- the "figure it out" approach to business.
Nebraskans excel at the figure-it-out approach. It started with the base technology of baling wire and duct-tape. Now it includes data systems, phone apps, video software, software as a service, bio-fuels, and artisanal microbreweries, to name a few.
In times of disruption, people get restless. If you find yourself restless in another state or part of the world, then please find refuge in Nebraska. Nebraska is a stable economic force in a restless country that provides a vibrant habitat to start and expand a business that will have a global footprint.