When soon-to-be college graduates begin their job search, rural communities typically are not the first place they look, but maybe they should be.
Many college students immediately look to the big cities as the land of opportunity. While larger communities may boast a greater variety of industries in which to find work, rural America could provide the chance for young entrepreneurs to create some of these same types of businesses.
For Mike Bosch, co-founder of Reflective Group in Baldwin City, he decided to start a business which would usually not be found in a small town. Reflective Group works on a variety of projects, including graphic design, app development, telephone service, tech support and video. Since its opening in 2011, Reflective Group employees have worked on a number of projects, including putting Wi-Fi in the underground salt mine in Hutchinson. While this was a challenging task, the “self-proclaimed geeks” at Reflective Group decided to tackle it anyway.
“That was a challenge that a small community brought to us and said, ‘this is what we’d love to have. This is the quote we got which we clearly can’t afford. Can you guys create something in between?'” Bosch said. “We said ‘sure, we’ll take a look at it.'”
Reversing the rural brain drain
The rural brain drain has posed a problem for communities like Baldwin City. This concept refers to the migration of young people from their small communities to larger cities, according to an article from the Huffington Post. The brain drain has posed problems in Midwestern states like Kansas, but Bosch and Reflective Group are doing their part to reverse the rural brain drain.
“Ultimately if they don’t return home, what we’re left with is an aging population and we don’t get the new vibrancy that youth bring,” Bosch said. “Reflective Group being a technology geek shop essentially, that’s definitely something that the millennials, that 16-36 age group, really draws to. Being involved in an industry that attracts millennials really helps.”
Although small towns may not be the ideal destination for young people, small businesses, those which employ five or fewer, in both rural and urban areas do comprise roughly 80 percent of businesses in Kansas and create a large number of jobs, according to Will Katz, KU Small Business Development Center Director.
While Katz said he thinks being from the community in which you start a business could help with investment and a beginning client base, small communities are looking for new businesses to come in and will not turn away new faces.
Obstacles for small town entrepreneurs
Katz and the staff at the KU Small Business Development Center think small town businesses are worthwhile investments, but they also recognize the challenges associated with these areas.
“Are there really enough people in the small communities that will pay money for your product or service that you’re hoping to provide?” Katz asked. “It can be a challenge when the population is smaller.”
In his work with approximately 1500 young entrepreneurs, Katz said he has heard many reasons for wanting to start a small business. He said he wants to remind those looking to make it big that many small business owners will not take home the big bucks.
“People start businesses because they have a vision,” Katz said. “They see some service that isn’t provided or maybe they don’t think it’s provided at the standard they’d like to see it or they just think ‘I could do that a little bit better.'”
Bosch and Crawford both mentioned that small business owners wear a lot of hats, including the role of janitor. They said it is just part of the job.
Additionally, Bosch said the stigma associated with small towns is one obstacle his business has had to overcome.
“People who don’t live in small towns have images of Mayberry running through their mind,” Bosch said. “Here we are, a cutting edge software company, and a lot of times it takes them a second to say ‘they just happen to live in a small town, but these guys can do great work.’
“We do this because we’re good at what we do and we love being in small towns.”