Columbia receives national recognition for entrepreneurial climate

Tuesday, June 23, 2009 | 6:07 p.m. CDT; updated 9:08 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Peggy Hurst, proprietor of Peggy's Gifts in Columbia, checks her gift card inventory. Hurst opened the shop in December of 2008.

COLUMBIA — Local business owners and professors know one reason why Columbia attracts so many new businesses: The city’s higher education system provides the business community with invaluable advantages.


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And now savvy business minds across the nation are taking notice, too.

BusinessWeek magazine named Columbia the best small city in Missouri for business start-ups in its March 27 article, “The Pros of Planting Startups in Smaller Cities."

Researchers analyzed cities across the nation with populations between 20,000 and 200,000 “to gauge an area’s entrepreneurial climate,” reporter John Tozzi wrote in the article.

Some of the 11 factors analyzed included the city's universities, workers with at least a bachelor’s degree, the “young and educated” population and small businesses per capita.

Since January, 325 business owners were issued a new business license in Columbia, according to Janice Finley, the city's business service administrator.

Columbia has an attractive labor pool of skilled workers for potential businesses because of MU and the city's colleges, said John Bennett, an MU associate professor of marketing. references “34,000 students and nearly 13,000 faculty and staff within walking distance of our shops, restaurants and theaters” as one of the contributing factors that “make this the shopping, dining and entertainment center of the Mid-Missouri region and the best location in the state for starting a business.”

“If you target young adults, it’s a great community to be in,” Bennett said.

That’s exactly what the three MU students who started Hot Box Cookies thought. After extensive research, co-owner Corey Rimmel said he generally found cookie delivery businesses to be successful in college towns.

Hot Box opened at 808-B E. Broadway in October, and so far, Rimmel said, he has found the venture to be successful.

“A lot of people in Columbia like to support a local business,” he said.

Peggy Hurst, who opened Peggy's Gifts  at 2511 Bernadette Square in December, appreciates the community support as well.

“I never thought about leaving Columbia to open up a store front, so really Columbia chose me,” she said.

Hurst said she depends on customers who have disposable incomes since her gift store doesn’t carry many necessities.

“Higher education usually means household income is higher," she said. "They pretty much go hand in hand."

Don Laird, president of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, said the higher education system plays a “very critical role” in the Columbia business community.

The Columbia Special Business District works to strengthen these connections. The business district offers a new business packet to entrepreneurs interested in opening a business in the downtown area. 

In the packet, the goals for the business district are listed, including one to “strengthen the partnerships between the private sector, the city, Stephens College and MU.”

Christopher Bailey, who opened Parkside Skateshop at 1614 Business Loop 70 W. in March, said his customers rangein age from 5 to 40.

“I think just the students being here just brings business to everyone, whether a dry cleaners or a restaurant,” Bailey said.

Bailey said his new business is exceeding his expectations.

"I think especially in this time, people are starting to understand a little more the importance of buying in their community," he said.

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