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WRAY: Entrepreneurship, apple pie and Savannah

As summer approaches, I get excited thinking about flags waving and patriotic bunting decorating Savannah’s porches. However, I don’t have to wait for summer to get that patriotic feeling because I have daily reminders that our work at The Creative Coast of building entrepreneurship is an important all-American tradition.

Earlier this month I had met AOL founder Steve Case in Atlanta during his “Rise of the Rest” road trip.

During the discussion, Case commented, “When you peel back the onion and look at the data, the secret sauce that drives the economy is actually the secret sauce that has driven America for the past 200 plus years: entrepreneurship. This country was built by entrepreneurs. The cities were built by entrepreneurs. The story of America is the story of entrepreneurship.”

Case’s observation is echoed by academics and industry leaders alike.

MBAxAmerica, a successful entrepreneurship movement recognized by Forbes, The New York Times and the Financial Times, states, “The future of America lies in the hands of entrepreneurs, not just in New York and Silicon Valley, but in small towns and big cities far from the coast and away from the hype.”

Case’s “Rise of the Rest” project and MBAxAmerica point out that not only is entrepreneurship the key to the American economy, it will take place in the “rest” of the states. Case is getting on a bus to go find these places while MBAxAmerica sends teams of MBAs on the road to learn from and work

with visionary entrepreneurs in the heart of America.

In a recent report by the Kauffman Foundation, which studied job growth during the last 30 years, senior fellow and research economist Tim Kane summed up the findings: “Startups that develop organically are almost solely the drivers of job growth.”

John Burke, a partner in the venture capital firm True Ventures, offers a similar opinion: “The startup community is the only bright light in the U.S. economy and is responsible for any current job growth.”

Burke’s company was an early investor in MakerBot and FitBit.

At The Creative Coast, we not only learn from these experts, we engage with national leaders and others to lift Savannah’s economy.

The Kauffman Foundation selected Savannah as the first city in Georgia to host their One Million Cups Program, and we’re proud to say The Creative Coast and Creators’ Foundry are the local organizers.

MBAxAmerica selected The Creative Coast to host four Stanford MBAs last summer, and their work largely resulted in the Creators’ Foundry innovation hub. In 2014, venture capitalist John Burke took time to travel from Palo Alto, Calif., to be the ring master of Geekend’s Pitch Circus and he’s already committed to hosting the event again in 2015.

Which brings me to the point of today’s column. Savannah has all the ingredients to be the biggest hotbed of entrepreneurial activity in the Southeast, including one secret ingredient identified in a recent report funded by the Historic Savannah Foundation.

Earlier this year, the foundation retained Donovan Rypkema, principal of Washington, DC-based PlaceEconomics, to study the economic impact of historic preservation on Savannah.

Rypkema’s report brings facts and figures to life, painting a panoramic picture of the undeniable positive impacts historic preservation has on this community.

More importantly, Rypkema’s extensive analysis brings into focus the much broader economic benefit historic preservation provides for those who live and work in Savannah and Chatham County.

Historic preservation is largely responsible for the development and growth of this region’s vibrant arts, cultural and culinary diversity, some of the key reasons why the Coastal Empire is a great place to start a business and enjoy a tremendous quality of life.

Rypkema’s “Beyond Tourism” observes in Savannah what mid-sized cities worldwide strive to create: a sense of place, an appreciation of history and the connectivity of a thriving community.

For the nation’s 92 million Millennials who are seeking walkable, bikeable and healthy communities, Savannah has what they want. The HSF report makes me feel great about Savannah’s future. It presents Savannah as a clean white canvas upon which entrepreneurs and innovators from around the world will design their productive life stories.

Savannah has all the right ingredients to fuel an innovative economy. Our history proves it. Our future will show it.

 

Bea Wray is executive director of The Creative Coast, a not-for-profit organization that promotes the creative and entrepreneurial community. Bea can be reached at 912-447-8457 or bea@thecreativecoast.org.

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