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Best practices mean excellent results in rural Michigan

by Carol James

February 2001

Although best practices directly correspond to success in all incubator types, they materialize differently from program to program. Here's a look at how one successful rural incubator, the Hastings Industrial Incubator in Hastings, Mich., embodies many of those best practices.

"Hastings is surrounded by lakes and hills and state recreation land," says Joe Rahn, executive director of Hastings Economic Development Department (EDD), which operates the incubator. About half of the city's 6,700 residents historically have commuted out of the county for work, most heading for one of four major metropolitan areas within a 45-minute drive. Four industrial manufacturing companies that have been in the area for more than 100 years provide most of the local manufacturing jobs.

"That [has been] our employment base," Rahn explains. "Those companies don't grow very much. And while they provide stable jobs, they don't create many new ones."

Local officials knew they needed to diversify their economic base and wanted to create new jobs but also knew that the proximity of the bigger cities meant Hastings would not be able to compete for large, relocating companies. "Smaller firms were a better bet for Hastings," Rahn says.

A redevelopment study, part of an Economic Development Administration grant application process, had predicted the size and composition of the incubator's client base. The study indicated that the entrepreneurial climate was favorable for an incubator. With that in mind, in 1988 Rahn and other community leaders set about launching an incubator and aggressively targeting small firms. The strategy has worked, and much of the success is attributable to qualities and efforts that exemplify industry best practices.

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Keywords: best practices, mission statement, rural incubator, stakeholder relationship management

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