June 13, 2005
New Cowley VP excited about economic development opportunities
Michael Wood describes himself as a “change agent,” someone who can create and make things happen.
Wood, Cowley College’s new vice president of business, industry and entrepreneurship, plans to be heavily involved in all aspects of economic development in Cowley County and south-central Kansas. That includes everything from education to working with aspiring entrepreneurs.
“There are a lot of first steps,” said Wood, who was born and reared in Waterloo, Iowa. “A lot has to do with our Center for Entrepreneurship and expanding and capitalizing on that. I also want to work with various educational institutions, our public schools and colleges to make sure that entrepreneurship education is within their curriculum. We need to begin educating students at an early age.”
Wood, whose office will be in the Cowley College Workforce Development Center at Strother Field Airport and Industrial Park, said he would be working with the Cowley First initiative to develop a plan.
“Everyone is interested in the growth of the region,” Wood said. “This office can act as a piece of the Cowley First operation, but still operate and work on its own.”
Wood, who is working toward a Ph.D. in organization and administration of adult education programs at Kansas State University, said that while the unemployment rate in Cowley County and the region is “not particularly bad,” the types of jobs people have in the area need to be examined.
“Those who are employed, many are underemployed,” Wood said. “We have more service jobs, which tend to pay less, than value-added jobs. Value-added jobs may or may not be hard manufacturing. We need to look at creating value-added businesses and industries in the area.”
Last fall, Southwestern opened its Center for Rural Entrepreneurship. Wood, who was employed by SWC, was instrumental in getting the project off the ground.
“Its primary purpose was to help identify and educate people in this south-central Kansas region on how to grow your own business,” he said. “If we think we can recruit industry, it’s a falsehood, particularly large companies. It’s time to go back to our roots. People here had to start their own businesses. Some sort of return to that will help reenergize and revitalize this area and initiate some sort of growth to the area.”
Wood said the structure of large corporations didn’t allow many to establish deep roots anywhere.
“We’ve seen so much of this in the last decade, these industries in transition, particularly with all of the global opportunities,” Wood said. “What has happened it plants have come in and grown and they’ve left, or their operations have been closed. For our own self-sufficiency, our own stability, we have to control who we are and help people grow and sustain here.”
Wood said the region needed to examine its assets and exploit them. Education, he said, would be a key.
“While we’re educating our youth about the benefits of this area, the same (education) needs to take place with the adult population,” Wood said. “Entrepreneurship is something to aspire to that a lot of people think they might want to own their own business, but they don’t know how. They’re pursuing a dream. We want to establish that type of education.”
Growing and assisting existing businesses also is important, Wood said.
“We want to serve as a resource center for people and become a clearinghouse for information, gather funding sources, and identify different ways people can start up their businesses,” he said. “We’ll also provide some mentorship opportunities. This isn’t something I can do alone.”
Wood said he’s talked with business leaders and entrepreneurs in the area to generate interest in a mentoring program.
“And finally, we want to work toward the creation of an incubator in the region,” Wood said.
Business incubators provide various services, including administrative, legal, accounting and access to the Internet and copy machines.
“They may not need these services all the time, which will enable us to provide shared services,” he said. “That’s the first advantage of an incubator. The facility is valuable, but it’s not the first thing that’s needed.”
Wood said an incubator also provides start-up companies with experience and direction on ways to take a product idea and run with it.
“Few entrepreneurs know how to assess the performance of their business,” Wood said. “They have the idea, and they have the ability to make the widget, but few really know how to run a business. As the entrepreneur makes the widgets, the incubator can educate them on all types of things.”
Wood said he planned to conduct research on incubators and how successful ones operate.
“I’ve been involved, not creating or operating an incubator, but the business process,” he said. “And I’ve been on a board that governed an incubator in South Carolina.”
Wood earned a bachelor’s degree in management and industrial technology, and a master’s of business administration from the University of Northern Iowa. He then spent 20 years working in industry, more than 10 for John Deere in engineering and management positions related to building factories. He also worked for Frigidaire, helping the company build a plant in South Carolina.
“It was my first foray into entrepreneurship and recruiting,” he said.
After several years, Wood moved to Charlotte, N.C., where he was the East Coast vice president for Accuride International, a company based in Los Angeles. He had similar responsibilities for the large privately-owned company as he did for Frigidaire.
In 1997, Wood left Accuride to start his own company. IndeCom Technologies was a custom commercial furniture manufacturer in Charlotte.
After a few years, Wood sold the company and joined the Peace Corps.
“I went overseas and spent a year doing business development work in the Ukraine, far Eastern Europe and Asia,” he said.
Wood moved back to the United States in July 2002, joining the faculty at Southwestern College as assistant professor of business and finance. After a year, he was named chair of the business division.
“During the last two years, I’ve been quite involved in the greater community when it comes to economic development opportunities,” Wood said.
Wood said creating opportunities for today’s youth would be a key.
“Youth need to aspire to do something,” he said. “Unfortunately, in some of our smaller communities, youth don’t have a lot to aspire to do.”