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Political Figures in the Lab

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

We rarely talk politics at the Fab Lab. We don’t spend a lot of time figuring out how to be politically correct either. We spend most of our time working to welcome everyone into our environment to learn and do things they didn’t know they could do. Somehow when that’s the goal politics and political correctness seem to take care of themselves. 

Even so, we live in a political world. That’s reality. Most small business owners and entrepreneurs work hard to make their businesses work in spite of what the politicians do to help or hinder their efforts. One very successful business owner I know ignores most of the national political news so as not to waste time worrying about things outside his circle of influence.  

In spite of our dislike of politics, especially in the national arena, we believe it’s important to do what we can to inform and educate politicians about the benefits Fab Labs and maker spaces can have on regional economic and educational efforts. Indeed, for the second year, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation will send me and local entrepreneur Joanne Smith (Fab Creative Services) to Washington DC for a jam-packed day of meetings with our legislators to educate them about how entrepreneurship really works. 

During the last election campaign season, wwere fortunate to welcome two out of the three Kansas gubernatorial candidates to the Lab. In the past, we’ve had U.S. Senator Jerry Moran pay a visit and during their respective campaigns, state Sen. Dan Goddard and state house Rep. Doug Blex spent time with us. These were not just cursory visits to smile for the camera and then say goodbye. Each visit was long enough to get a sense of what we are trying to do - promote entrepreneurship and a new kind of workforce training in a variety of disciplines. In the case of Sen. Moran, we had a mini-trade show set up with about five of “our entrepreneurs” showing how they use Fab Lab ICC to help their businesses. 

After World War II, the political, economic and education systems in the United States were set up to provide life-long jobs for people, complete with pensions to provide for retirement. The thought was that among the big corporations, the government and the labor unions, provision would be made to properly care for the population through these jobs and retirement. That worked fairly well from the 1950’s through 1970’s. (Well, except for a couple of nasty recessions along the way.) With the fall of the Soviet Union and the advent of the Internet, the world wanted part of our U.S. markets, and the American model of good jobs for everyone began to erode. 

Today, pretty much gone are the concepts of lifelong employment, pensions for retirement and job security. Yet many of the components of our old economic systems remain in support of an economy that no longer exists. Most political candidates talk about job creation and how they can do it better than their opponent. More are finally talking about entrepreneurial start-ups, but many think that always means big, risky start-ups requiring lots of capital for finance. The reality is that 98% of new businesses start with $10,000 or less and grow as they go, learning to be agile and pivot when markets for their products change. 

To compete in today’s global marketplace, employers need a workforce of entrepreneurial thinkers that can solve problems quickly and in new ways. Our Fab Force program is designed to create such entrepreneurial thinkers that can help their employers be more competitive. Employees want to think they are part of a solution. As with other aspects of the old economy, gone are the days when most people want to do boring, repetitive work, without thinking, just doing what they are told. 

So, we welcome the opportunity to host political candidates and office holders to share what a place like Fab Lab ICC can do to help support entrepreneurship and the new needs for workforce. 

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349, by email at jcorrell@indycc.edu or Twitter @jimcorrellks.  


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