The City of Maricopa was incorporated in 2003. Not long before that, it was farmland at the edge of the Gila Indian Reservation, and before that it was the John Wayne Ranch. During the real estate boom, Maricopa was one of the fastest-growing communities in the country. It was the entrepreneurial dream of two men, real estate developers, who founded El Dorado Holdings to buy the land, lobby the state to get a road built to that connected to I-10, master plan the community, and get homebuilders to build houses.
The builders and the residents of Maricopa awoke from that dream in 2008 to find growth stalled, jobs gone, and home prices under water.
That's how I came to be sitting in front of 16 people around a table this morning on the first day of New Venture, the business acceleration program Stealthmode Partners offers entrepreneurs in Arizona when we can get cities to underwrite it. New Venture, developed by the Kauffman Foundation, is a program to get people comfortable with starting a business.
Many of the people looking back at me had moved to Maricopa from California, but one came from New York and one woman was actually born and raised in Maricopa. To a person, they loved the community and wanted to stay.
And so they were gathered to learn how to become self-sufficient by starting their own businesses.
After more than a decade of sitting with these groups, I can predict some things:
1) the group will bond at about week five
2) they will form a trust network and do business with each other whenever they can
3) their ideas won't necessarily change the world
4) but their ideas will impact their community
5) most of them will remain in business, even though they might not end up with the idea they came in with
6) they won't generate the traditional jobs statisticians who count "job growth" are looking for
7) most of them will not need "jobs" again
8) many of them will become friends
9) I will hear from some of them again years later with updates and results, and
10) this phenomenon of community-based businesses is little understood by typical economic development professionals, or by traditional funding sources, who don't pay attention to it. It is best understood by people like Muhammad Yusuf, founder of the Grameen Bank, who won a Nobel Prize for deploying it in third world countries. If Arianna Huffington is right, the only way to save America from becoming one of them is to deploy that model in places like Maricopa.
Once in a while, there will be a breakout idea in the group, but I don't care. It doesn't take a breakout idea to build a successful business; it takes a person with passion and a connection to customers.
That's why I love what I do. It is so wonderful to watch people come into their power as business owners. But the nature of their businesses isn't important to me: what's important is the passion they bring to them. Last year we saw people make a success of a business that cleans up dog poop from residential and commercial landscapes. And we saw a woman put herself into remission from cancer using entirely natural therapies and go on to develop a practice devoted to helping others do the same.
We have seen every industry from construction to containers, from web apps to window treatments. They all can work to build community and bring us out of the Recession.
I can't wait for next week to see those Maricopa entrepreneurs again. Or the ones in Gilbert. Or the ones in Tempe. Or the ones in cities we haven't reached yet.