One of my favorite economic exercises is to perform a business cluster analysis to see what your community’s business portfolio looks like. We haven’t had the time to do a formal in-depth analysis here in Kent yet but there are some interesting anecdotal data points that suggest themes and trends that drive much of our economic strategizing.
In case you missed it, we’ve got a big bubble called Kent State University that dominates the skyline but orbiting that bubble we’ve got a cluster of interesting and eclectic small technology companies that appear otherwise disconnected except that they can all trace their roots back to Kent State — like Alpha Micron or Rocket Calc. These guys look very different and they compete in entirely unrelated markets so perhaps at first glance it’s hard to see how they form a cluster but with a little dusting you’ll find Kent State’s fingerprints all over them and they emerge as distant cousins descending from the same family tree and Kent State tribe.
These tech bubbles are in turn floating in a sea of local service industries that were born out Adam Smith’s law of supply and demand. The techies need to have service work done on their cars, they need to buy computers, they need insurance, and they need to eat. In response to that pent up demand a cluster of cottage businesses was born and like moths to a flame mom and pop businesses sprung up all over town ready to offer the personalized kind of service that techies like best — remember most techies aren’t big box shoppers, they’re retail anti-disestablishmentarianists who prefer the off-the-beaten track found on the road less traveled. It’s part of their genetic composition to favor everything unconventional — after all that’s exactly what makes them successful as entrepreneurs — they blaze new paths, stake their claim and sell the heck out of it. And they admire those same traits in the businesses that they patronize.
Hence the signficant cluster of businesses huddling beneath the umbrella advertising the power of the periphery in Kent’s business profile. Chipolte does great business in Kent but it flies under the radar screen when compared to the non-brand names like Taco Tonto’s or Ray’s Place. The non-main stream mom and pops is one way that Kent’s notorious rebellious streak has manifested itself in the marketplace.
Whether it’s a one person office downtown or working out of the home, Kent has a sizable cottage industry that includes everything from architects, photographers and yes, tatoo parlors. Home occupations are big small business in Kent.
Ultimately it’s those home grown cottage businesses that we think represent the best of Kent’s past, present and future. Our goal is to create the right environment for the small guys to thrive in the brave new world. That means living a bit further out on the edge — as mom and pops survival rate isn’t nearly as high as their national chain second cousins — but we think that risk reward scenario is worth it.
We’ve got a great host organism capable of producing many offspring if we can cultivate and sustain the right ecology. Who knew economic development could sound so environmentally conscious? Speaking of which, we’ve got a great cluster of green companies in Kent but that’s a topic for another day.