The city of Columbia is just beginning to focus on developing entrepreneurship within its borders, according to Paul Ellis, Columbia’s director of community and economic development.
“When I started in economic development many years ago it was all about chasing smoke stacks,” Ellis said. “Now it’s a lot more about economic gardening and recognizing that most of your growth in any community is from within. The more that you do to help people realize their dreams locally the more likely you are to have them stay and employ more people and grow your economy.”
Ellis said that they are working to build community commitment to developing a strong entrepreneurial environment. The city has a revolving loan fund that it uses to assist new businesses and has recently completed the first phase of a Main Street streetscape plan. He predicts that Main Street will become a “startup row.” Ellis said he works with partners like the Small Business Development Center at SIUE to assist new businesses in any way he can.
“We are really digging in to see how we can help startup businesses and emerging businesses in terms of financing, advice and encouragement, and in terms of referrals to other expertise that’s available to them,” Ellis said.
One such business is Zettie’s Confections. Zettie’s CEO Kerri White, said she grew up making candies and baked goods with her grandmother, Zettie. As a young couple, Kerri and her husband Larry, would make Zettie’s recipes for gifts for friends and family. They were so good, people encouraged them to produce them for sale and eventually they did.
They started small, working out a deal with a local coffee house, but that quickly changed.
“My husband and I would go in and bake after hours, on weekends or week nights and we built our brand through that relationship,” White said. “We were able to get new customers and people to try our product and get an introduction to the commercial side of bringing our product out to the public. Within our very first year, we were able to sell our product to a local retailer in St. Louis and our wholesale distribution was born. We’re now here four and a half years later and we’re selling products in stores scattered across six states.”
White said most of the product is now made by a third party in order to meet the growing demand. Locally, Zettie’s Confections are sold by the Hive in Alton down to Bountiful Blossoms in Waterloo and from Eckert’s in Belleville all the way out to the Stone Hill Winery in Hermann, Mo. Whole Foods stores carry her product in St. Louis, Chicago and Omaha and they are also available at the Ravenswood Winery in California.
While continuing to work on building their distribution, White said that they are also working to open a retail shop in Columbia. They’ve purchased a building and are working with Ellis to attain the proper zoning. She expects to open it later this year.