The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, part of the nation's central banking system, is perhaps best known as a key provider of agricultural economic data. Its president helps set national interest rates. It works with banks.
But the bank also promotes economic growth in its seven-state region. Dell Gines, who heads up the Fed's small business work with rural communities and urban neighborhoods from its Omaha office, calls it the work of a "wholesaler."
"For example, we work with small business organizations to help them understand what models are out there to help foster collaboration and help deliver programming," Gines says. "We help the people that help the people."
Despite the different challenges facing, say, a small town in rural Nebraska and northeast Kansas City, Kansas, Gines says that the work of promoting entrepreneurship as an economic development strategy, a subject he frequently addresses in publications and conferences, is similar regardless of the location.
"A lot of our small rural communities are suffering because of a lack of economic growth, the out-migration of youth — some of the things happening in our inner cities, as well," Gines says. "So you apply the model differently, but the model itself at the highest level is very similar.
Gines launched a regional project called Econ Avenue, which received national recognition when Janet Yellen mentioned it in her first speech as Federal Reserve Chair. He also has developed a series of guides and eBooks explaining his community-based economic development strategy.
Gines says the program keeps finding new expressions. On a recent trip to Kansas City, he held a meeting about church-based entrepreneurship training. The Fed will also host its second Growing Entrepreneurial Communities conference later this year, with a specific focus on diversity and inclusion within a rural or inner-city economic ecosystem.
Promoting minority-owned businesses is a priority, Gines says, but one that holds particular challenges.
"Most people don't know this, but black women are the fastest growing group of business owners in the nation, and when you control for population it's not even close," Gines says. Still, average sales and profits remain lower than other demographic groups. These and other challenges keep Gines engaged with the work.
"I love watching communities grow," he says. "I love watching businesses get off the ground. I love seeing peole get enthusiastic about trying and starting something new. It's just what I do."
This interview is part of KCUR's Innovation KC series.