LJWorld.com weblogs Heard on the Hill
Working on a 'potentially catastrophic' problem for small-town businesses
Over the weekend we ran a story about KU's outreach efforts in the central and western parts of the state. Top administrators have been crisscrossing Kansas and touting KU research and programs that have an impact on rural communities.
One of those programs, developed in 2012 and currently growing, is the business school's RedTire initiative, which helps match small-town business owners with potential successors. The goal is to help those owners retire. Without someone to head the business in their place, owners might be reluctant to leave, either because they want the business to continue or their community needs it to, or both.
Wally Meyer, director of entrepreneurship programs at KU, said RedTire is meant to "address what is a potentially catastrophic condition not just in Kansas but really across the country."
Recruiting largely through KU's alumni network, RedTire has been searching for KU graduates who "might well be interested in returning back to the heartland," Meyer said. The challenge is to find someone with the right skills — in pharmacy, architecture, publishing, business or whatever the company happens to specialize in — who wants to move to a particular community. The successor also has to be a good fit for the business itself, which puts RedTire's staff in the role of matchmaker.
To date, 100 small companies in need of managers are working with RedTire, and the program has found 150 potential replacement managers to run those companies. With alternatives "nonexistent or much more expensive," Meyer said his team has seen high interest in RedTire from business owners, many of whom have grown attached to their businesses and "want to see it succeed after they retire."
Often manager candidates have connections to the towns the businesses are in, but Meyer thinks he will start seeing candidates who want to move to a small town for its own sake. He surmises that younger workers especially might look to small communities as good places to raise a family and establish a good balance between life with work. "I'm reasonably confident we'll find folks anxious to move to Newton instead of Wichita, Hutchinson instead of Wichita… because it represents a quality of life," he said.
I myself am not ready to retire just yet. Until I do, I'll be working hard on pursuing your KU news tips. Send them my way at firstname.lastname@example.org.