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I think my Dad was an entrepreneur. I know I am. However, if you asked me to define exactly what and who an entrepreneur is, I don’t think I could provide a coherent, consistent opinion. At least, not until I researched this seemingly simple question.

My Dad held several jobs after returning from WW!!. The ones I heard of but don’t remember well were selling Jewel Tea, selling vacuums door to door, and selling insurance. None of which were held long nor were they that memorable. I vividly remember, though, spending many afternoons and Saturdays in the grocery store my Dad and his brother started in the early part of the 1950’s. Great memories, including eating slices of cheese off a large wheel of cheddar, stealing soft drinks (in bottles) out of the floor ice box, and occasionally feeling very appreciative of the simple sandwich Dad made for my brother and me. Plain white bread with a slice of the cheddar off the large wheel and several slices of “shaved ham” which my Dad shaved. He was the butcher. How he got to be a skilled butcher, I don’t know, but knowing Dad, he probably just decided he was going to be a butcher.

The store eventually went the way of many small businesses and closed due to the entry of A&P, Colonial Stores, Harris Teeters, etc., the earlier chains that siphoned customers due to lower prices. I don’t remember my or my dad’s emotions during that closing, but it just seemed that one day Dad started managing a Sherwin-Williams store, something he eventually retired from after 20 some years.

For a portion of those 20 years with S-W, my Dad and Mom joined hands with one of my uncles to form a new company, Trio Chinchilla Ranch. This venture I remember vividly since it involved raising chinchillas in our basement and building a chinchilla supply business as an adjunct venture. They loved raising chinchillas. Dad handled the securing of breeders, built cages by himself, handled sales and eventually was the president of the national association of chinchilla breeders. My Mom, believe it or not, performed tasks that would not be well accepted today, including modeling chinchilla coats at the association conventions, and euthanized and “pelted” the animals for the fur which was eventually sold to clothing companies.

In retrospect, despite that varied history of “jobs” and ventures, my Dad never thought of himself as an entrepreneur. In fact, I don’t think it was a term in fashion back then. He was just a young man with an idea (usually many of them), who appreciated being able to own something, loved his work, worked long hours without complaint and had high hopes for the future.

Fast forward to today’s business community in Catawba County, North Carolina. Promoting, advocating, sponsoring and championing those who wanted to start a business are common themes in our business community, exemplified by Chambers of Commerce, economic development agencies, and even the development of new majors in entrepreneurism at both Lenoir-Rhyne University and Catawba Valley Community College. We have seen several successful years of “The Edison Project” where budding entrepreneurs vie for funding, there is a local networking group of entrepreneurs, and Lenoir-Rhyne has developed a Center for Commercial and Social Entrepreneurism (CCSE) which not only teaches the finer points of starting and growing a venture but also provides consultation and resources.

So why all this whirlwind of interest, activity, promotion and focus on entrepreneurialism?

It seems we are simply expanding on what we have always done; explore, have grand ideas, take risks, and stake our claim. Now we know what to call the individual who thrives on those behaviors. They are entrepreneurs, and their “art” is entrepreneurialism.

We have plenty of those “business artists” in the Catawba Valley.

LOOK for those fledgling businesses, those idea builders, and the risk takers to be profiled in all future monthly issues of GFB Monthly. We plan to announce their presence, champion their enthusiasm, track their progress and even help support their growth.

In this first installment of “So, Just What Is an Entrepreneur?”, we have explored the nature and characteristics of this special breed of people. We learned there is not just one type of entrepreneur; there are many. We also learned what it takes to start a business.

Want to learn more? Open and read our articles on this topic in the next issues of GFB Connect, your own mid-western Carolina (Catawba Valley) Business Journal.

Oh, by the way, wondering about the textbook definition of an “Entrepreneur”?

The Merriam-Webster version: “one who organizes, manages and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.”

The Dictionary.com version: “a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.”

We think Dictionary.com has it right. The KEY difference is in the use of the word “any”. Entrepreneurs, in the purest sense, are those who identify a need – actually, any need – and fill it. This urge is independent of product, service, industry or market.

Here at GFB Connect we want to continue to explore and understand this type of person, this “seek and solve” mandate that just MAY be a central and important piece of the Catawba Valley economic and business development landscape for quite some time.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see Hickory, Newton, Conover and surrounding communities referred to as a “hot bed” for entrepreneurs?

NOW I no longer “think” my Dad was an Entrepreneur. Now I know he was.

Thanks, Dad!

By Anthony K. (Tony) Jackson, MBA, Entrepreneur, Founder of GFB Connect, Inc.

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