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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.

Things that go bump in the night

“We hate her. This will fail. We’d like to chop her head off. He’s crazy. We’re going to take her out. They don’t fit. He scares me. She’s a traitor. They’re ruining our neighborhood.”

Phrases from your favorite mafia film? Try again. These are words used to describe some of my colleagues who have come up with new ideas in their efforts to drive change. A few of them were said about me. Yea, that was fun.

New ideas are often viewed as scary. They challenge the status quo, make people nervous, cause us to dig our heels in, and have the power to make some people downright nasty. Introduced in 2014, this General Electric commercial excels at providing a visual around the fear and the power of a new idea.

Now I’ll admit my heart melts for anything fuzzy or furry, but this commercial really touched me. Yes, it brought back both scary and exciting memories. But mostly it rang true to the opposition we at the Edward Lowe Foundation and many fellow support organizations face when it comes to our “grow from within” philosophy.

To many, helping existing businesses succeed doesn’t have the same heart-pumping adrenalin as racing to please the corporation that dangles job creation as an incentive for more incentives. A “grow from within” strategy is often viewed as unattractive, messy, scary and a challenge to the status quo.

At the foundation, we think it’s beautiful. We take it in, feed it, nurture it, then swell with pride as successful entrepreneurs don the feathers of jobs, wealth creation, innovation and community ownership.

But I’ll admit embracing what others view as crazy comes naturally to us. After all, our founder invented Kitty Litter, a product referred to as “dirt in a bag” by the first store owner who refused to charge for paper bags full of what would eventually create an entirely new industry for things that are, by the way, furry. Meow.

It is my hope that the next time you’re approached with a new idea of how to grow your economy, you’ll at least make the effort to bring it in and give it a little nourishment. Who knows, if it’s not the right fit for your community, it might be adopted by someone else.

And while you’re at it, go hug something fuzzy.

Penny Lewandowski
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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