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Change often begins at the edges. It starts with just one voice — one idea that makes a difference. “Penny on the Edge” champions those who are willing to go first and challenges readers to think differently about how we grow our economies. This means understanding the intersection of entrepreneurship and economic development, along with the need to balance grow-from-within and traditional recruiting strategies. My intention is to provide ideas and support, make you laugh, and sometimes even annoy you as together we drive change from the edges.

Lattes and manufacturing: Understanding local and external market companies

I have a new favorite place in Grand Rapids — Early Bird Café. They are part of the Grand Rapids local movement and I love supporting local.

Down the road about two miles is another Grand Rapids local, Proos Manufacturing. They offer a full range of vertically integrated manufacturing solutions to multiple industries throughout the United States. Proos’ employee count is 87 and last year annual revenue was $14.3 million.

I have a reason to frequent Early Bird — they make a great latte, their ever-changing breakfast menu never disappoints, and I feel welcome. I’ve never been inside Proos Manufacturing. I don’t have a reason to go there, although I’m sure their CEO, Amy Proos, would be happy to offer me coffee and maybe even a muffin if I decided to stop by.

At the foundation, we refer to Early Bird as a “local market company,” which means they circulate money around the city and their growth potential is limited to that market. Proos is designated as an “external market company,” meaning they sell products outside Grand Rapids, as far away as Brazil, and bring new money into the region. Their growth potential is unlimited since they have the capability to sell around the world if they choose.

Early Bird, and local market companies like them, bring personality to our neighborhoods and often influence decisions about where we choose to live. Proos and their fellow external market companies bring new money into their communities and the states where they are headquartered.  Both businesses make a difference, but they contribute in very different ways.

Communities need both, but far too often, recognition and assistance is focused on the local market company. They’re more obvious, easier to understand and consequently easier to assist. But a maniacal focus on only one type of business can be detrimental. Whether you are urban or rural, the only way your community will grow is by bringing in new money, and that means nurturing companies like Proos. And the only way you’ll get someone like me to relocate is to have local companies like Early Bird.

Entrepreneur support organizations and their communities are well served when they understand the importance of balance and learn to assist both types of businesses. And I’m not talking about handing out incentives. I’m talking about the kind of help where you get your hands dirty and become really smart about what your companies need to succeed. We’ll cover just what that looks like in a future blog. For now, I’m headed to Early Bird for a latte and from there I’ll send Amy a note to let her know how much we appreciate what Proos does to help Grand Rapids grow.


Penny Lewandowski
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A thought leader in entrepreneurship and building an entrepreneurial culture, Penny Lewandowski is senior consultant of external relations at the Edward Lowe Foundation. She is a frequent speaker on new ways to think about economic development – especially how a grow-from-within strategy leads to thriving and sustainable economies. To send Penny comments,   click here.

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