Lower Columbia: What drives the entrepreurial spirit?

Mary Austin is a contributor to the Trail Times, offering insight from Lower Columbia business leaders and entrepreneurs.

Mary Austin talks with Lower Columbia business leaders and entrepreneurs in her column

– Mary Austin is an active Board Member for both Community Futures and the Lower Columbia Community Development Team Society (LCCDTS). She is the Chair of the Lower Columbia Tech Club and the Lower Columbia Women’s Business Club. She is also co-owner of Austin Engineer Ltd. and feels fortunate everyday to be able to live and work with her family in this community. –

Growing up, I never imagined myself as an entrepreneur. I’d rather hoped to become a university professor. My husband Roger, who always dreamed of becoming an engineer, had already realized his childhood dream of working on massive dam, bridge, highway and mining projects when we started dating. Then we fell in love, and after working on huge constructions projects throughout Western Canada together, we realized we wanted to raise a family in this little piece of paradise. So we asked ourselves: what skills do we have that might be useful in the Lower Columbia?

Some background. We’d had the enormous good fortune to be able to live for a year in China. There, we witnessed raw entrepreneurialism in action. Despite the obvious social and environmental challenges facing modern China, there are also tremendous opportunities in a culture which faced unparalleled poverty only one generation ago. In our Chinese neighbourhood we were able to watch peasants, unable to own their own land, start simple businesses just by biking their apples to the city, then purchasing a small fruit stand, and quickly begin to imagine a bricks and mortar store as well as an eventual “franchise!”

We realized we’d both had phenomenal examples of good business practices, not only within our family and friends circle, but within our wider community. To give just one example of our “business heroes”, my grandparents operated a small shop in Rossland for over 50 years. They viewed their customers as friends and took great pleasure in selecting quality products their clientele would cherish for a lifetime. They had deep pride in their work and their community.

The focus of this column will highlight entrepreneurs who also take this same pride in their work and community. We will highlight locally owned businesses who employ 10-500 people based in Trail, Rossland and Fruitvale. Some of these entrepreneurs started their business from scratch, some took over businesses and grew them, and others are proud to continue their family’s legacy of excellence. All are deeply committed both to their business and to its role in the community. These business leaders don’t sell printing, but create the material that inspires confidence in a new business. They don’t sell groceries, but rather select the food that nourishes our families. They don’t sell software, but rather the community building tools that bring people together. They don’t sell rooms, but rather temporary homes for weary travellers who expect a high level of service in our small, but proud, community.

Rather than focus on specifics of their operations, this column will answer the questions: what drives these entrepreneurs to build and grow in this community, what makes working in this community unique and what compels them to strive every day to meet their customer’s needs?

As no business is successful on its own, we will also learn more about the people that create entrepreneurial infrastructure to enhance our region’s “entrepreneurial culture.” We will ask key “business advocates” who support entrepreneurs through education, funding and promotion of our region what drives them to continually champion our region’s businesses, what inspires them to continually push forward, and how they can work with budding entrepreneurs to take their entrepreneurial dreams and make them a reality.

This column will uncover the secrets of how some of the region’s hardworking entrepreneurs and business advocates contribute to the long term economic success of our region. We hope to encourage young and not so young people considering an entrepreneurial path and to see starting and running a business a worthy goal for the bright and motivated. We look forward to your questions and feedback and hope you enjoy our series!

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