A Place to Dream: Entrepreneurship is Easier with Kirksville Regional Economic Development, Inc.
When you think “entrepreneurship,” the city of Kirksville, Missouri, may not be the first city to pop into your mind…but maybe it should be.
Located in northeast Missouri, Kirksville is home to Truman State University and just over 17,500 people. By most standards, it’s a small, rural town, smack dab in the middle of the country. And like most rural towns across America, it has a long history of being the home to risk takers, trailblazers and entrepreneurs. In fact, Kirksville was named after Jesse Kirk, the first person to own a hotel and tavern in Kirksville.
And so, when it comes to supporting the entrepreneurial community, the city of Kirksville, Missouri, is making leaps and bounds. How? By making sure entrepreneurs and aspiring business owners are supported with the local business coaches from organizations like the Kirksville Regional Economic Development, Inc. (K-REDI), Missouri Rural and Enterprise Innovation Center (MREIC) and the local Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
All three of these organizations are led by Carolyn Chrisman, superwoman (obviously) and executive director for all three. Sounds like a lot, to be sure, but Carolyn will tell you that Kirksville is beyond supportive of its entrepreneurs and that makes wearing so many hats easy.
“Our community has bought into entrepreneurship-led economic development.” said Carolyn. “It is very supportive of every effort and every stage, from the large industrial firm to the small, mom-and-pop business. We want, and we’re ready, to support everyone [who wants to start or grow a business in Kirksville].”
Supporting more than 16 counties through all three organizations’ services, Carolyn is a champion of rural entrepreneurship across the region she has deemed the “upper east side” of Missouri.
Let’s take them one by one:
K-REDI works with Main Street employers and large industrial businesses on retention, expansion and workforce development.
MREIC focuses on a multicounty approach to innovation-led businesses. (This area is a hub of agricultural sciences.)
SBDC works with early and second-stage businesses from ideation to expansion. The center provides education and resources to entrepreneurs, and can help with business plans, marketing, and finding financing for their small business.
Someone say “funding”? For rural entrepreneurs? Carolyn has more words around that.
“We have our checklist of what stage you’re at, the capital that’s available and from what sources,” says Carolyn. She goes all-in to leverage local and statewide resources to make sure Kirksville entrepreneurs and business owners have what they need to start and stay in Kirksville. “We’ve connected small companies to microlenders in St. Louis, if that’s what they are looking for. We’ve had some of our clients apply for funding through Missouri Technology Corporation and their IDEA programs.”
She’s also advocates for growing companies, connecting companies that are hiring and have a good track record to revolving loan funds.
“Everyone is in need of financing. We let them know the different funding streams available and help connect them to the right one, helping entrepreneurs and business owners get what they need to find success here.”
She also recognizes that startups often need something more than funding: space, support, connectivity and education. Two years ago, MREIC and SBDC joined forces to launch an incubator named Square 1 (notably way ahead of the curve of their rural counterparts).The incubator helps rural entrepreneurs get launched and get up to speed (literally) by providing them with space, broadband internet access and small business counseling. With the procurement of a MOBEC grant, Carolyn looks forward to expanding Square 1’s services to amplify the support it provides for not only entrepreneurs, but also other community members that need its resources.
“We believe in the power of entrepreneurship in Kirksville and our community supports it. It’s a great (and affordable) place to live, work and realize your dreams.”
Kirksville has an outstanding reputation its community, but there is so much more to learn. With it being so close to several major cities (only 6 hours away from Chicago via train, for example) and the destination for the state’s largest wind farm to be established, it is full of chances for growth and not being afraid to fail. As Carolyn put it, you can take a chance, focus, and not feel that you would suffer a great loss if it didn’t work out.