Small towns can be perfect for starting and growing a business and Altoona has what it takes, said Colby Williams, an avid entrepreneur and author of “Small Town Big Money: Entrepreneurship and Opportunity in Today’s Small Town.”
Williams, the keynote speaker Friday at the Altoona Blair County Development Corp. annual meeting, talked about starting a coffee shop — Parengo Coffee — in 2013 in the small town of Sikeston, Missouri, and how he went through what he called the three phases of economic development.
He decided to open the coffee shop to invest in the community, calling the first phase “isolated entrepreneur.”
“I built my coffee shop, worked 16 to 20 hours a day for three years. When in that phase, you are busy, you see a hole in the marketplace and try to fill it. For me, I saw a town situated near two interstates, the town didn’t have a coffee shop within 150 miles. I thought I could create a place and become a heart of the community,” Williams said.
He decided the shop was not sustainable as an isolated entrepreneur.
“In order for me to have a successful business and live with myself, I needed to move to the next stage (cooperative community). This is when you realize you don’t need to be isolated. What if we all band together and pool resources, we could get everyone in the neighborhood involved. I tried to make my neighborhood cool,” Williams said.
He said the Altoona area is similar to Sikeston.
“Altoona is very cool. What was exciting was I felt I was not isolated. I was playing on a team, I saw revenues increase and got people to work together. We put out an effort to do cooperative marketing. Slowly, I saw people change. This was real exciting. I felt I was playing on part of a team. This was good for me and the community, we supported each other’s businesses,” Williams said.
He called the third phase “synchronized stakeholders.”
“We need each other, we are a community-oriented species. When synchronized stakeholders get involved, some remarkable things happen, that is what is going on here (Altoona). You start to realize people want to live in places that have a certain quality of life,” Williams said. “Embracing the entrepreneur in the area has led to some amazing things.”
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 814-946-7467.