Haverhill continues to try to overcome the economic effects of the loss of the shoe industry. Pictured are workers in one of the city’s shoe and boot heel manufacturers.
Haverhill city councilors are considering participating in a business development program that could cost between $3 million and $5 million, but has the potential to grow local companies substantially.
The answer is dedication, belief and commitment, says Daniel Isenberg, an investor, professor and founder of the Babson Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Program, BEEP for short.
Isenberg said BEEP’s mission is to help the people and businesses in a region recognize their potential.
“We try and instill growth in regions that don’t believe in themselves as much as they should,” he said.
It’s easy to create just about anything in the Bostons and New Yorks and Londons of the world, Isenberg said.
“But most regions in the world have a lot more assets in hand than they believe they have.”
City Council President John A. Michitson invited Isenberg to share ideas with city officials, investors and business leaders about how to boost Haverhill’s economy.
“The goal I had for tonight was to introduce a different way of thinking about economic development. It’s all about building capacity. We don’t have capacity,” Michitson said.
If Michitson wanted to hear something different, Isenberg delivered.
“Small business is not the backbone of the economy,” he said.
Economic success for a city or a region comes from an obsessive focus on new growth in existing businesses, not luring new businesses.
Many communities and regions are in the same position as Haverhill, Isenberg said: trying to resuscitate the local economy after the loss of a business environment that sustained the area.
“Most cities have a history of industries disappearing out from under their feet,” Isenberg said. “You probably have a similar situation here.”
In response, councilors said in unison, “Shoes!”
Councilor Andy X. Vargas, Haverhill’s newly elected state representative who spent four years working for a program called Entrepreneurship for All, which focused on helping people start small businesses.
Vargas said he had a “lightbulb moment” when Isenberg said growth of medium-sized startups has a much more beneficial effect on the economy.
Council Vice President Melinda Barrett told Isenberg she hopes the city can pursue a BEEP project in the near future, which would depend on accessing the necessary funding.
Isenberg said the fee is normally paid over the course of two years.