Small Towns and Placemaking- Building an Entrepreneurial Culture from the Ground Up

Here is another piece that I will share from my uber-talented colleague Liz Shaw. Liz recently attended the kick-off event for Jonesville Soup, a hyper local crowd sourcing event in a small town in southern Michigan. The event showed why placemaking principles are vitally important in small towns. Here is her synopsis on the happenings, with lots of “how-to” ideas along the way.

Jonesville SOUP

 Not every community is home to a college or university where a Town Gown partnership can be forged.  But many municipalities are finding they can join forces with their local K-12 school districts to strengthen their shared community.

 Earlier this spring, village officials, business leaders and educators mixed up a new recipe for creative collaboration in Jonesville with the first-ever Jonesville SOUP (Students on Upward Pursuits).

 The grassroots fundraising concept is a simple one, based on the original Detroit SOUP, in which community members contribute a small donation to share a meal while listening to their neighbors pitch ideas for local arts and small business projects. At the end of the evening, everyone votes on their favorite project, with the winner receiving the dinner’s proceeds to launch their dream.

Jonesville’s then-Village Manager Adam Smith (who has since moved on to manage Mackinaw City) was inspired to try a local version after hearing about the concept at a Michigan Municipal League seminar on government and community innovation, held in March at the Innovatrium in Ann Arbor. Also in attendance were County National Bank Jonesville Branch Manager Don Germann and Hillsdale County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Christine Bowman.


Presenters at Jonesville Soup

The trio saw it as a great opportunity to connect the rural community’s business, municipal and education sectors. Smith put his own innovative twist on the idea by focusing the Jonesville version on students. Within days, the idea had won the collaborative support of the village council, Jonesville Community Schools, and the Hillsdale County Chamber of Commerce.

They also engaged corporate partners to ensure the event’s success.

“Being the inaugural event, we had no idea what kind of response to expect and we wanted to be able to guarantee a certain amount for the award. Our corporate partners made that possible,” said Smith. The meal was catered at cost by OIivia’s Chop House, a local eatery, and sponsored by Martinrea Jonesville LLC, a manufacturer for the automotive and industrial sectors that is Hillsdale County’s largest employer.

Attendees paid $5 for a soup and salad dinner in the Jonesville High School cafeteria, while local high school students pitched their best and brightest ideas for community-based projects.

“It’s pushed our kids to think how they can do things to help not just themselves but those in the community. It’s sparked ideas about making the community look better, taking pride in the community, looking out for their fellow students,” said Jonesville High School Principal Dustin Scharer. “It shows we all have a vested interest in our kids, that it’s not just the schools.”

 Three student groups signed up to vie for the $500 award to put their idea into action. The school’s SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) chapter sought funds to help bolster their annual post-prom party. A group of landscape design students displayed plans for an interpretive nature garden at the elementary school. The winner was the school’s National FFA (Future Farmers of America) chapter, which is building a community garden to provide produce for local food banks and for the agriculture program’s food processing class.

Community leaders are already planning how to make next year’s event even bigger and better, said Germann, hopefully turning it into a community tradition that will continue long after its originators have moved on.

“It’s the fusion of civic engagement, entrepreneurism, placemaking, micro-financing, and our next generation of leaders,” said Smith. “This is the kind of thing that could really start our young people on the road to success. Maybe someday they’ll look back and say this is where it all began. It’s all about building relationships, and us just being the facilitator.”