The conditions in McDowell County of West Virginia are so bad that majority of the people there live on government support. In a place once supported by the coal industry, most people get by on disability insurance, social security, and food stamps. Infact, this county was one of the first recipients of the federal food stamp program created by President John F. Kennedy because of his promise on his campaign trail to help them. Teen pregnancy rates are high, but drug use is even higher. The conditions for most are appalling because no major industries operate there anymore.
After reading the full article the first thing that came to my mind was, how would I fix this situation as an entrepreneur? The first thing that came to mind was Jared Diamond’s famous book, Collapse, on how societies fail or survive. He studied the way in which societies, based on environmental or industrial influences, were affected. In many cases some flourished to the point of creating a vibrant community that afforded jobs and support for its people. Of course there is the opposite case, one too many unfortunately, in which many cities or towns or whole regions fell apart because of unfavorable conditions. He marks some of the contributing factors that play a role in the decline of societies and how that has a negative economic impact on its surrounding neighbors.
After considering his work, the next thing I thought was, if enough entrepreneurs got together and viewed the condition here as a failing business model, what would it take to bring it back from the dead? From a business perspective, one has to be of reasonable mind to know that if a business model doesn’t work or a company is operating in the red it’s best to fold the company and move on (i.e., file for bankruptcy) unless unlimited funds are available. In this case, aside from looking at it like a business model, the option to fold is not available because the one thing that is present here, and not present in the first, are the lives of the people here. Regardless of what option you pick, their lives will continue to be here so using the Vanishing Option Test, that Chip and Dan Heath discussed in their book Decisive, you understand that the only option you have is to help them because you got rid of all your other options (vanishing option) such as more government assistance (which has shown to have negative effects). When no other option is available then you understand there has to be major changes made in order to bring them around.
After considering these two books I imagined how entrepreneurs would bring about change to this place. In an ideal situation you would bring in funding to build new schools, new homes, new apartments, a new main street with operating businesses with parks nearby and places for entertainment (movie theaters, bowling alleys and skate parks). The idea would be to use crowdfunding to bring in money instead of through banks, who wouldn’t lend a penny because they see no return value in it (what does that say about their own support?) But after all is said and done and people have jobs, is that enough? Would the town be able to support itself after it has conditioned itself to live off of government support all these decades?
As an entrepreneur, what questions would you ask yourself about this situation? This is important to know because there might be times you are asked to come into a sinking ship of a company and fix everything, the question is, will you know what to do?
Here are some questions I asked myself
Would building new facilities throughout the small town fix anything or just make it worse? Remember this is a place that has a long history of prescription drug abuse and high drop out rates.
Would bringing in high quality instructors to teach free education programs be enough to get people working again?
Would offering good paying jobs help bring back the community?
What would be the first step in fixing such a problem?
This is just one community that happened to be showcased in the newspaper. Remember that are hundreds, if not thousands, of little communities throughout the US that suffer the same condition of being abandoned by an industry.
Leave a comment if you have an idea about how to tackle such a problem or would just like to share your thoughts in general.