May 2, 2013

Call it the document brought to you by Ambien.

Well, not totally, says Carroll banker Michel Nelson of the City of Carroll's newly minted Strategic Plan, one crafted in recent weeks by a panel of citizens and elected officials.

Amid the process language about financial policies and implementation schedules and periodic evaluation, one strategy stood out, said Nelson, a vice president and senior trust officer at Iowa Savings Bank who joined more than 40 people in developing the plan.

"You've got to have some sizzle," Nelson said.

Nelson successfully made the case for the inclusion of an entrepreneurial initiative aimed at attracting recent college graduates to Carroll to launch start-up ventures.

He foresees a program in which Carroll helps find commercial space for the one- or few-person start-ups, provides financial and business mentoring from a mature business class here, and perhaps even connects the young entrepreneurs with half- or three-fourths times jobs, giving them the flexibility to shoot for the moon - both for themselves and our city.

In Seattle, Wash., or Austin, Texas, these young businesspeople may get lost in the shuffle. In Carroll, they're important. A small idea could grow into a significant employer. Planting many such seeds makes more sense than a wild recruiting scheme targeting a large company.

"We're never going to be competing for a Subaru plant," Nelson said.

The business-incubator concept would come with some costs, of course, but not large incentives or new major line items in the city or Carroll Area Development Corp. budgets. It's mainly about strategy, finding the smart ways to reach young people with ideas and convince them that Carroll is the right hatchery.

Carroll County has the second-lowest unemployment rate of any county in the state so our existing businesses clearly need bright, young minds, and should be open to accommodate entrepreneurial spirit, to give the new graduates or budding businesspeople of all ages the time and space and guidance to develop their own projects.

"It's those kinds of things that you can do," Nelson said. "You don't need splashy brochures."

The Carroll Chamber of Commerce already is working on a project with Manning High School alum Zack Feser, 23, who is leading a survey company spun out of a Simpson College-based incubator, EMERGE.

We are familiar with other young people with strong Carroll ties who are working on smartphone applications and apparel and publishing and other ventures. Carroll should be reaching out and bringing them home.

The strategic planning document tackles an admirable array of issues and projects from improved library services and trails and an upgraded Recreational Center to voter turnout and marketing. Led by the city, with the responsibility resting largely on the shoulders of the city council and mayor, the document is in most respects a rehearing of old arguments and pitches in new form.

It's separating quality is what Nelson promoted effectively at a final gathering of committee members Monday night in a St. Anthony Regional Hospital meeting room.

There's sizzle in the search for start-ups led by talented young people like Feser.

We need to keep fires burning beneath our elected officials and economic-development leaders so the entrepreneur-incubator idea doesn't become one more forgotten line in a shelved plan in a graveyard of good intentions.

Give it voice, give it life.