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Applauding the spirit of small towns

PRINCETON — The Princeton Chamber of Commerce hosted another Chamber breakfast event on Wednesday morning. The Wise Guys banquet room was filled with not just Princeton Chamber members but also with people from neighboring towns and villages. While the buffet breakfast was clearly reason to come, the keynote speaker for the event was the main attraction.

Jack Schultz was full of inspiration mixed with a variety of anecdotes as he addressed the crowd. Schultz’s visit was sponsored by Midland States Bank and Shaw Media. His speech focused on “ordinary people in ordinary towns ...” doing extraordinary things.

Schultz knows about extraordinary. He is the CEO of Agracel, Inc., industrial developers for manufacturing and high-tech entities of Effingham; the chairman of the board for Midland States Bank; and the author of “Boomtown USA: The 7 1/2 Keys to Big Success in Small Towns,” which was published in 2004.

Those “7 1/2 Keys” were the reason for Schultz’s visit. In writing the book, Schultz spent three years researching hundreds of small towns across the country. That research has since been featured in USA Today, Forbes and Business Week among several others. He has been a guest on many radio and TV programs, including “Bloomberg Business Television.”

Schultz told the crowd in Princeton he became interested in economic development “by happenstance,” when the economy in Effingham took a turn for the worse. Working in an agricultural business at the time, he found some like-minded people to help bring Effingham back up the economic ladder. Schultz said it wasn’t a quick process.

“We had to diversify,” he said. “Economic development isn’t like clicking your fingers. It’s a process. It took us five years.”

Schultz’s presentation included a slideshow of photos from different towns across the country, which helped him with his research and ultimately with the content in his book. Some of those towns included Leavenworth, Wash.; Columbus, Ind.; LaSalle/Peru; Tupelo, Miss.; Truman, Minn.; Southgate, Mich.; Branson and Cape Girardeau, Mo. He told stories of those town and cities and how they had conquered their economic woes.

He said he had traveled to many communities where those cities were at a fork in the road and urged those in the crowd to follow baseball great Yogi Berra’s advice: “If you come to a fork in the road ... take it.”

Schultz told the Princeton group about his “7 1/2 Keys,” giving examples of each. He also talked to the crowd about the importance of an entrepreneurial spirit and spoke of a relatively new class for high school students dubbed CEO — Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities, which gives junior and senior high school students the tools to become entrepreneurs. More video clips emphasized the importance of that program.

After showing some graphs that focused on the economy, education and more, Schultz closed his address by saying, “Princeton can’t afford to have residents go to the Quad Cities, Peoria or LaSalle/Peru ...” He applauded the “spirit of small towns,” and encouraged those in attendance to “get out of your silo” and think outside the box.

“Remember: The person who wins is the one who says, ‘I can. I can,” he concluded.

Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.

'Boomtown USA: The 7 1/2 Keys to Big Success in Small Towns'

Author Jack Schultz lists these characteristics as the "7 1/2 Keys to Big Success in Small Towns."
1. Adopt a can-do attitude.
2. Shape your vision.
3. Leverage your resources.
4. Raise up strong leaders.
5. Encourage an entrepreneurial approach.
6. Maintain local control.
7. Build your brand.
7 1/2. Embrace the teeter-totter factor (the curmudgeons).