Thinking of starting your own business? This is why Abilene is a great place for self-starters and entrepreneurs.
Abilene is, as the song goes, “deep in the heart of Texas,” roughly two hours from Dallas and four hours from Austin, but with a population that’s just a fraction of the size. As home to first-rate educational systems, Abilene offers access to a high-quality workforce, as well as plentiful resources for entrepreneurs and opportunities for growth, making it an ideal location to launch a small business. Its redeveloping downtown caters to the urban lifestyle millennials crave, making it a mecca for young professionals — Abilene has the largest young professionals network in West Texas.
For Ted Evans, who grew up in Abilene, forging the relationships that happen naturally in a smaller town was essential as an entrepreneur. He now owns and operates several small businesses, including Lone Star Dry Goods, a men’s clothing and lifestyle store.
“I was like the quintessential ‘Get me out of the small town I grew up in, I want to go on to bigger and better things,’ ” says Evans, who left his hometown, attended college at Texas A&M and lived in Houston for several years before moving back. “I always wanted to own my own business, but being able to walk into a small, local bank and sit down face to face and have a conversation — that wouldn’t have happened in a place like Houston. I got an SBA loan because the culture here wants to support small businesses.”
The Chamber of Commerce is the heart and soul of small business in Abilene. It takes a pro-growth stance with the goal of generating jobs and encouraging entrepreneurship and population growth. In addition to supporting local businesses across sectors from the military to arts and tourism with innovative initiatives, it offers training and workshops in conjunction with America’s Small Business Development Center at Texas Tech, from one-on-one help developing business plans to obtaining financing and strategic planning.
Abilene utilizes what is referred to as a “P3,” or a public-private partnership, likened to a three-legged stool. Comprised of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce and its Industrial Foundation (AIF); the City of Abilene; and its publicly-funded entity the Development Corporation of Abilene, together they create a business ecosystem that promotes entrepreneurship, business development and talent attraction.
Business owners say it’s easy to get plugged into that ecosystem. “There’s a plethora of opportunities to get connected with other businesses here,” says chiropractor Emily Elias, who moved here with her husband and opened Victory Spinal Care. As new Abileneans just starting a business, the couple took advantage of local resources including the Kiwanis Club, the Rotary Club and Christian Women Business Network, and became regulars at the chamber’s packed calendar of events. “There’s also programming that offers free help to people starting small businesses, with weekly workshops available online — it’s things like accounting and payroll and stuff business owners don’t necessarily think about when they’re in the nitty gritty of it. That was a really great resource.”
The chamber is dedicated to developing an inclusive business environment for all. Abilene was one of 51 nationwide grantees recently awarded a $1 million grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration. With it, the chamber is piloting a new West Texas Business Navigator Program designed to reduce barriers for underserved entrepreneurs, including women, veterans and socially or economically disadvantaged business owners.
The program uses a hub and spoke model, with the chamber as the “hub” connecting businesses to “spokes” who reach specific sectors of the entrepreneurial community. These spokes include the Abilene Black Chamber of Commerce, the HERU Community Development Corporation, the West Central Texas Council of Governments, the Abilene Industrial Foundation, Cisco College, the Abilene SBDC, City of Abilene and Northwest Texas Procurement Technical Assistance Center.
Small businesses are the backbone of the local economy, and they’ve played a significant role in the revitalization of downtown Abilene, with many formerly vacant buildings being revamped with new small business concepts.
“People are getting away from the big box stores — they want more of an experience when they’re shopping and spending their money. People in Abilene want to support small, locally owned businesses and see them thrive,” says Evans. “A lot of people have stepped up and opened breweries and coffee shops, retail shopping and restaurants in the past three or four years. There are probably 75% more places to go now — but it’s local people who are taking a chance, and we all want the same thing, which is a vibrant downtown.”
This article was sponsored by the Abilene Chamber of Commerce.