This post is the third in a four-part series about creating a new entrepreneurship program, the Missouri Women’s Business Center, while simultaneously helping entrepreneurs...
The deck is increasingly stacked against individuals, nonprofits, and small businesses who are losing out to big business or face increased funding challenges. I help the community underdogs compete for dollars by leveling the playing field. We specialize in insights, tools, and services that meet the needs and expectations of our clients.
Because of my age and family circumstances, I grew up with the best parts of the Millennial and X generations. My dad is an engineer, so before computers were commonplace, I had the opportunities to develop my technical abilities alongside my creative skills. But I have the Millennial affliction for purpose over profit. This lead me to develop a diverse set of skills, honed in 10-plus years of nonprofit communications work. If you’ve worked in nonprofits, you know just how many hats you have to wear. Small budgets demand creativity, and that’s where I excel.
Of course, Mic Drop wouldn’t be possible without my other half. My husband, Tao Weilundemo, is talented and creative in skills that I have little experience with. So together, we can tackle the biggest of challenges for the smallest of clients.
Not only do I have a lot of first hand experience in these areas, but I also see how these groups are underserved by traditional marketing firms. As the former director of business services for The District, I saw how business owners manage a business and act as their own communications and marketing professionals, their own development teams, and their own social media gurus just to keep up with the competition.
Similarly, nonprofits often don’t have the resources to hire professional graphic designers, web developers, and communications staff. In both instances, these groups are being measured by what they can’t do instead of what they do really well.
Our communities depend on the success of small, family-owned businesses, and we all do better when money is spent locally on local products and services. I believe that business owners can compete with the big guys by doing what they love and leaving the rest to us.
I was always incredulous about it as a career ambition. After graduating from MU, I was in between jobs when I finally took Adobe classes through the Columbia Area Career Center. After a few years of improving the skill and several jobs later, I realized it was an added bonus for nonprofits who would normally do without. It enhanced my abilities to serve and sell their programs and services. While it’s something I seemingly have a knack for, I simply enjoy telling a good story, and design allows me to do that when words just won’t work.
The people. I missed the people. I can’t stress this enough: Columbia, what you have is unique and beautiful. I traveled for sights, sounds, and new experiences, but when I needed community, I came home. I’m originally from a small town (Laurie, Missouri) but moved to Columbia for college after falling in love with it when my mom would visit for her cancer treatments. It was the small businesses that gave me the biggest joys and the people in them that welcomed me home. The diversity, the kindness, and the warmth of the people is this city’s greatest strength.
I resigned as director of communications and development for Empower Missouri, a human rights advocacy organization, to volunteer for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. It was a choice that gave me the liberty to donate hundreds of hours to organize a partisan grassroots movement here in Boone County. With the support of thousands of volunteers, my husband and I were proud to organize efforts that garnered Sanders 60 percent of the vote in Boone. At the state convention, I helped to organize over 700 Bernie Sanders delegates to pass the most progressive platform in the history of the Missouri Democratic Party. I was then honored to receive their votes to serve as representative to the Democratic National Committee. The movement we helped lead then went on to work with the Boone County Democrats in an effort to elect Hillary Clinton and down-ballot candidates locally. The organization, now named Our Revolution Mid-Missouri, is exclusively working to find, recruit, train, and assist progressive candidates throughout the Mid-Missouri region as well as organizing with partner groups to move ballot initiatives forward.
Now, I’m now working within the Missouri Democratic Party, the DNC, and county organizations to rebuild grassroots efforts locally and nationally. My goal is to return the Democratic Party to the people. Sure, we lost some elections, but what we gained was a better way forward. I feel a great deal of accomplishment for successes achieved, but all the credit belongs to the volunteers and contributors of the past year and half. It was, and is still, the people who continue to inspire me.
Columbia is unique in a lot of ways. It’s a highly educated, low-unemployment, liberal stronghold of Missouri. It’s also the fastest growing city. The problems we face here don’t always translate to the problems 30 miles outside the city (in either direction). When other Bernie supporters were saying that their local Democratic organizations would alienate them, ours welcomed us in. It was the leadership of the Boone County Democrats that made a lot of our successes possible. The party nationally is looking to follow in the footsteps of places like Boone County in being an inclusive organization with vastly expanded support for down-ballot candidates who represent our shared values. We’re going to provide room at the table for anyone who wants to work with us in rebuilding the Party of the People. We don’t want donors; we want investors. We want to create a climate of participation. Now, change never comes without growing pains. But we’re Democrats, and change is what we do best. And if there’s ever a place to begin, it seems best to bet on Boone County.
Columbia is increasingly susceptible to the whims of special interest groups and national and state legislation. What we see now in the explosion of student housing development is actually a national trend in similar cities. These developments have a few benefits and a lot of drawbacks. While our surface parking lots are being converted and utilized, it’s also funneling money directly out of our economy; of course, it’s also changing the culture of our beloved city center. Growth is not bad at all — I’m a huge fan — but it’s smart growth that we want. And our leadership will need to do better at recognizing national trends before they come home to roost.
National trends and policy would be easy to deal with if they were the only thing a city councilperson had to watch for. But Columbia has to watch and plan for policy in Jefferson City as well. The hardships we face will come from attacks to the institutions that sustain us. I’m not just talking about MU (even though that’s a big one) — I’m also talking about cuts to health care, which will hurt our hospitals; cuts to SNAP or TANF, which will hurt our grocers and farmers; and cuts to the arts, which hurts Columbia’s tourism. Our economy is greatly dependent upon the whims of policy and the political favor of elected officials. So until the priorities for the legislators in Jefferson City change, Columbia will need to anticipate and mitigate public policy risks to continue smart, sustained growth through 2020.
I grew up at Lake of the Ozarks and I’ve worked in the oil fields of West, Texas. The only thing they have in common is that they’re both boom and bust economies. In Texas, when the oil was flowing, the price of rent was comparable to what I paid on Seventh street in Santa Monica. If tourists or citizens here end up having to spend more on tuition, health care, or basic necessities, they’ll be less inclined to shop here, stay here, or live here and benefit our local businesses. Like fanning the flames, less money in the local economy will drive up sales to big-box stores that are investing somewhere else.
Columbia is lucky it’s not been based on a boom and bust economy (other than Mizzou football). But our businesses, like those in Texas, do best when employees and workers have money to burn. I believe we’ll weather the policy storm, but competition for limited resources will drive some businesses out of town.
I think there’s a great deal of pride in our community and conscientious consumers who will continue to make purchases that support local businesses. I also feel that the variety of higher education institutions will continue to add stability during tight economic times, and it will continue to bring in some of the best and brightest minds. We have a lot of talent and genius here. By engaging and empowering people to participate in our community, we can continue to grow despite the challenges created by outside factors.
I come from a loving, middle-class family. My mother was a police officer, my father was an engineer. But I’ve also been a high school drop-out and homeless. I’ve seen enough to know that bad things happen to good people. I’m not proof of successful bootstraps mentality; rather, I’m proof of what can happen when society doesn’t turn its back. Because my community invested in me, I now invest in it. It’s a love story, really.