At the 2010 Oklahoma Entrepreneurs Conference, a panel of communities shared how they had become more entrepreneurial. Artists are entrepreneurs, too, and Mangum, Oklahoma, is home to several arts businesses.
“If you count every man, woman, child and chicken, we have 2500,” Maxine Thomason said. She was the Mayor of Mangum, a former program manager of Mangum Main Street, and a 30 year teacher.
“Survival for a small town is not a given,” Thomason said. “You have to work at it.”
Mangum chose the Main Street program as their stepping off point to work at survival.
“We don’t have the workforce or space for a manufacturer, so we have to offer a niche market,” Thomason said.
They ended up in the artist business. Mangum’s Artists Alley is now famous in Oklahoma and a tourism draw. It started with an individual artist setting up studios. Then a few artists joined in, and it has now expanded to other entrepreneurial businesses moving into downtown.
They do lots of advertising to bring in visitors. One innovative tactic Thomason mentioned was an established business allowed artists to piggy back on their newspaper inserts.
They made use of the state Main Street program. Oklahoma Main Street has an architect service, at no charge. Mangum used the Main Street Architect to guide the remodeling of four storefronts.
Two financing programs helped promote more entrepreneurial activity. The City of Mangum established a Revolving Loan Fund for local businesses. They funded it through a grant by the United State Department of Agriculture. The local Main Street committee offered $500 matching grants to businesses for facade improvements. It’s small, but it’s enough to start changes, Thomason said.
The local Main Street also became a clearing house for available resources for small businesses.
“There’s lots of assistance out there, but sometimes it’s finding it,” Thomason said.