Youth Engagement Update
May 2016 
Attracting Entrepreneurial Talent
Craig Schroeder
Senior Fellow
Over the past year, I have been working with the staff of The Highland Center in Highland County, VA to create an effective brand and message to attract entrepreneurial talent seeking a small town quality of life with rich heritage, culture and scenic beauty; and where they can contribute their entrepreneurial energy as community volunteers and leaders. As you consider opportunities to attract alums and newcomers to your community, I would like to briefly share the process we have used to develop a strategy for attracting entrepreneurial talent to this wonderful rural community located in the remote mountain region of western Virginia.

In pursuit of an effective brand and message, we were mindful that the message and brand needed to convey inspiring, honest and heartfelt stories that connect with individuals who value Highland County, and seek to contribute to the community. We also wanted the brand and message to be authentic in regard to challenges Highland County faces in being remote with a small population. But, we also understood that remote and small population are assets and elements of what make Highland County compelling to people seeking a rural quality of life.

In focus group conversations and survey responses from local citizens, past visitors and former residents, several consistent themes emerged, including the natural beauty of the area, a strong community that cares for one another, safety and self-sufficiency, rich heritage and culture, and entrepreneurial creative and artistic talent.

As we considered the significant quality of life aspects of Highland County, and also the economic development assets available locally, we identified five target groups for growing business and job opportunities in the county: 
  1. Local entrepreneurial talent seeking to stay and grow in Highland County
  2. Location independent entrepreneurs who can do business from anywhere
  3. Alums pursuing business ventures with the desire to return to Highland County
  4. Individuals who can work remotely using a computer, mobile devices and the Internet
  5. Retired angel investors/mentors seeking to support entrepreneurs

We then embarked on the task of selecting a branding theme that would encompass and convey the many positive attributes of Highland County. What emerged was the concept of "elevated living" in terms of the natural environment, spiritual and mental wellbeing, lifestyle and family, local and sustainable food systems, and community. We are now working with a marketing firm in the region to create the visual brand and marketing materials to promote "elevated living" to their target audiences via the web, social media, print and local festivals. We are also preparing local citizens to be Community Ambassadors, welcoming and engaging visitors and new residents to Highland County.

If you are seeking to create a strategy for attracting alums and newcomers to your community, please contact Craig at to schedule a time to visit by phone.

For more information on The Highland Center and Highland County, please visit:  

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Center for Rural Entrepreneurship | (402) 323-7336 |