For a relatively small rural community (pop. 9,919), the city of Highland has a progressive entrepreneurial spirit.
The city started an entrepreneurship program, holds an annual business plan competition and is in the process of installing a high-speed, fiber optic system throughout the town. In addition, four banks have banned together and are offering business micro loans through the Justine Petersen Housing and Reinvestment Corporation.
The Highland Entrepreneurship Program (HEP) was designed by Venture Advisors, Inc. and funded by the city and a partnership of local banks. The program provides selected, budding entrepreneurs with a team of mentors who are seasoned and successful local businesses people. These mentors assess the viability of the business concept. According to Lisa Peck, the city’s economic development and marketing coordinator, they help the entrepreneur analyze and develop their enterprise by providing tactical business advice and support to the entrepreneurs in evaluating market opportunity, developing a sound budget, understanding financial statements, assessing staffing needs, devising marketing strategies, and assessing growth and sales opportunities. It is open to those who either already have or will establish a business within Highland and is offered free of charge to those accepted.
City Manager Mark Latham said that there were approximately 25 mentors who had agreed to participate in the program. They are both currently employed and retired and come from a variety of business backgrounds including construction, law and finance.
“We have some (entrepreneurs) that come to the realization that they’re not going to make it,” Latham said. “That’s important because we don’t want them to have to sell everything they own to get into business and then it fails.”
Because of this up-front mentoring, Peck said, every business that went through the HEP was still in business. The program is beginning its third year and has had some notable successes, said Peck, including the renovation and reopening of the Lory Theater, assisting a local software firm in growing to the next level, and keeping a fledgling restaurant from closing.
Highland recently held a business plan competition and received 20 entrants, according to Peck. Cash prizes were supplied by local banks and the Highland Chamber of Commerce. Three entrepreneurs were selected by a panel of judges to receive the awards.
In March 2010 Highland began construction of a fiber-to-home system called Highland Communication Services. Latham said that Highland is one of only 18 cities in the country to provide the gigabit service. He said that when the bond issue was put to a vote, it received the support of 78 percent of the Highland electorate.
“Highland has been blessed with a strong manufacturing base which is very unusual for a town of 10,000 people,” Latham said. “If they’re operating globally, they have to be able to communicate. That was on the retention side. The other thing is on the attraction side. We’re hoping that this system will attract high tech types of businesses like data centers and call centers and bring high tech jobs.”