ORIGINALLY WRITTEN LAURA CAMPBELL
For 35 years, Hillsboro Development Corp. has worked to see its small community thrive, and its newest strategy toward that end is nurturing young businesses that have potential to bring wealth to the city of Hillsboro.
It’s called the Hillsboro Business Incubator Center, and it will be much more than just a building, HDC president Mike Kleiber told about 40 area business leaders invited to a special unveiling of the new cutting-edge venture Thursday evening in Tabor College’s Wohlgemuth Music Education Center.
Tom Kaufman of 1-year-old Kintec Inc., which touts an innovative braking system for trailer hitches, was applauded by his fellow community members when announced as HBIC’s first client.
The concept for HBIC did start out a few years ago as merely a “multi-function facility to house start-up businesses here in Hillsboro,” Kleiber said.
And such a facility, he said, is still part of the plan-eventually.
But the idea got a whole lot bigger once Megan Kilgore of the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce convinced Vincent Amanor-Boadu of the Kansas Ag Innovation Center at Kansas State University to visit Hillsboro and ultimately to partner with HDC in the venture.
KAIC is a collaborative effort of Kansas Department of Commerce’s agricultural marketing division, KSU’s College of Agriculture, Advanced Manufacturing Institute, Kansas Polymer Research Center and 21st Century Producers.
“We came to realize that we probably needed to alter our plan a little bit-we really didn’t have the vision that we needed to have,” Kleiber said.
“We changed our approach from just bricks and mortar to something more than that-a complete business development plan.”
KAIC knows that such a plan is crucial, director Amanor-Boadu explained at the meeting, because the success of a new business depends on much more than the availability of start-up materials.
“Research has shown us that with a lot of the businesses that didn’t move fast or failed, it was not because they didn’t have resources,” he said.
“Most of the time it was that they didn’t have knowledge and skills that would help them navigate some of the challenges that confronted them.”
Amanor-Boadu will help HBIC offer innovative knowledge and skills to take not only new businesses like Kintec but also the entire community “to a different level” of wealth, he said.
And the creation of more wealth-not more jobs-is really the crux of the venture, Amanor-Boadu said.
“The initiatives that we are looking at here are very simple,” he said. “Our metrics are in the wealth creation-we are not focusing on jobs.”
Because the city’s wealth depends on property taxes, the goal is to increase the median income in Hillsboro, Amanor-Boadu said.
“When we have $200,000 to $500,000 homes in the community, I am sure we can do a lot of good with the taxes we raise from that,” he said.
“And when we create a community that is strong in its wealth creation initiative, the jobs will come.
“When Kintec becomes a multi-national company headquartered in Hillsboro, it will be very easy to bring people to come and work here in Hillsboro, because we will have the money to attract them,” he added.
“There’s a proper sequence in all of this.”
And the first step in the sequence, Amanor-Boadu said, is to get community members on board with their time, money and-most importantly-their enthusiasm for the venture.
Business leaders most passionate about the idea will be put in a steering committee that Kleiber said will then “look at our possibilities and formulate our ideas.”
Members of the HDC board of directors will spearhead this effort.
“Our board is united,” Kleiber said. “It’s very passionate about where this can take us, and we’re very glad to have the opportunity to work with the ag innovation center.”
The next step will be to search out would-be entrepreneurs with big ideas and plenty of passion to make them happen, Amanor-Boadu said.
“We still want the entrepreneur to be the one driving it,” he said. “We don’t want to own the company, because then we have to run it.”
And in any business development plan, marketing strategies must come prior to any production, Amanor-Boadu said.
“Before you start making it, we want to sit down and make sure we know who’s buying it,” he said.
“I’m really passionate about that-the essence of business is to be a marketer.”
With its initially limited resources, HBIC will have to be selective in deciding which businesses to nurture, Amanor-Boadu said.
“It is very important that we put our limited resources into initiatives that are going give us a return,” he said.
“Our focus is making sure that every cent we put into any company is returning the highest value to the community.”
Clientele options are varied, he said, from short-term investments in smaller businesses to longer investments in larger companies-and even working with businesses that may eventually move on from Hillsboro while leaving a portion of their wealth here.
While initial funds for the venture will come from area donations and government grants, the goal is to develop a self-sustaining program that is both not-for-profit and not-for-loss, Amanor-Boadu said with a laugh.
“We’re going to focus on making sure that this thing, within a very short period of time, is self-sustaining,” he said. “The business model is for us to get a return from the businesses we help grow.
“It’s the only way we can keep it going,” Amanor-Boadu added. “We can’t keep coming back to the community constantly.”
But for now, Amanor-Boadu is not worried about gaining community support for the venture.
“The commitment and excitement about the community, I think, is what sells this place,” he said.
“I found in this town people who believed in it.”
And that’s crucial in the face of claims that small communities like Hillsboro will never make it.
“If you look at all the research that has been done on these communities, the story is that there’s no future for them,” Amanor-Boadu said.
“But I think it is absolutely arrogant to say there is no future for rural America,” he added.
“We are going to succeed regardless of the deal that nature has dealt us.
“How do we make our absence of water, mountains and people irrelevant to our success?” he asked. “That’s the challenge that we’re working on.”
And Amanor-Boadu said he hopes that this venture, the first of its kind as far he knows, will set an example to other rural communities in desperate need of the same economic transformation.
“This is not just a Hillsboro initiative,” he said.
“We are looking at building something here that can be a beacon for small towns and rural communities across the United States.
“And I’m excited about it.”