September 18, 2014 | By Patrick Lopez, '15
As a nontraditional student who rents a house in Albion, goes to the grocery store in Albion, goes to the bar in Albion, it was sort of inevitable that I would start to notice that Albion has a business community doing whatever it could to attract jobs. Being in the Ford Institute, I had a choice of internship options, but when Peggy Sindt, '73, from the Albion Economic Development Corporation (AEDC) mentioned the College's Class of 1960 Internship, I thought it would be interesting to try and help the city a bit.
My specific task was to analyze Albion's existing business incubator model, compare it to successful incubators in other places, and recommend improvements. Business incubators provide facilities and support programs for new businesses to grow. They’ll offer cheaper rent, cost-sharing for utilities, access to business counseling, links to the community, and so on.
A highlight of my research was discovering a master’s thesis done in northern Indiana regarding microfinance in business incubation. This was particularly interesting because it dealt with the consequences for microfinance as it pertained to low-income entrepreneurs. I thought perhaps, with the loss of so many large businesses, Albion had a good pool of skilled people who had ideas for a business but couldn’t rely on traditional bank funding. It was a real boon to find research that backed that idea up!
My recommendation to the AEDC ultimately included a business plan, and it was great to get constant input and feedback from Peggy and Dan Gremore. Peggy in particular is a wealth of information about Albion’s business community!
This was the kind of learning that only the real world can provide. That might sound corny, but as an undergraduate who isn’t taking business classes, this was a heck of a way to learn how government and business interact on the local level. One great thing about the Ford Institute is how it takes guys like me—mostly interested in things like international relations—and gives us an opportunity to experience a different world. I hadn’t even heard of business incubators before this opportunity! If nothing else, the idea that everything, and I mean everything, is connected to the global markets has been firmly driven into my head!
The most amazing thing about this internship was my exposure to the dedicated community leaders in Albion. There are people dedicating their lives to Albion and trying to help this city out. There is no silver bullet for fixing the woes of small-town post-industrial America. It’s going to take dedication from a new generation of people willing to get their hands dirty to keep places like Albion alive. You don’t have to be a business major or a public policy wonk to do it, either.