S2 – Blog 06: What Does it Take to Run a Successful Business in Rural America? Five Takeaways from Our Interview with Forgottonia Brewing

This month, we are exploring the topic “What it Takes to Run a Successful Business in Rural America.”  The following blog post features key takeaways from our recent interview with the owners of Forgottonia Brewing in Macomb.

Takeaway #1 – Rural Americans refuse to be left out: After our interview Susan Park of Forgottonia Brewing showed a map of all the breweries located in Illinois.  Each brewery was represented by a dot. Most dots were located in the Chicago and St. Louis areas, while various other dots appeared scattered here or there.  But in Western Illinois, there is one dot sitting by itself. That dot is Forgottonia Brewing in Macomb, IL and it represents more than just a business; it represents the dream and work ethic of Sean West, Scott Park, and Susan Park.  This dream likely required more resolve than we know. Although it’s difficult to start a business anywhere, starting a business in rural America requires a much steeper climb. Seeing this dot and listening to their story made me realize how perfectly this business demonstrates the resolve of rural Americans to simply not let themselves be Forgotten. If more of us show this resolve, perhaps there will be a lot more dots in other types of industries.

Takeaway #2 – We are all Connected. One of the things I appreciated most about Sean, Scott and Susan is that they are trying to do much more than run a successful business.  They are guided by the belief that when one business succeeds, we all succeed. And they mean this sincerely, not just for the residents in Macomb but in all of Forgottonia.  Wait, aren’t businesses supposed to be about competition? Natural Selection? Winning and losing? If that’s the case, Sean, Scott, and Susan sound a lot different. They talk about helping other business owners and wanting them to succeed.  They care deeply about the success of Western Illinois University in Macomb. They want residents to get the services they need. After listening to this interview, I’m convinced these guys are more than just business owners, but active citizens looking out for the well-being of an entire community.  

Takeaway #3 – Changing the World Starts Local. Sean told the PJ Star in a recent interview how he hopes the success of the Forgottonia Brewing company will be an indication of the success we can have in our region. “A large part of me doing this was out of frustration about not being able to fix issues in this area, he said.  “We’re hoping to be very successful and we want to see this region succeed as well.” His words reminded me of an important lesson we learned from a past interview with author, activist & Knox College psychology professor Tim Kasser who said “If you want to change the world, start local. Real world change is local change.”  

Takeaway #4 – Thank the Ones Who Stay. Rural America is no stranger to problems.  Some in our communities face these problems and make the decision to go somewhere else, somewhere those problems perhaps don’t exist. You can’t blame someone for leaving, you can only be that much more thankful for the ones that stay. The story of Forgottonia Brewing is an extraordinary example of a group of people who see a problem and stay.  They stay and do what they can to fix it…which leads me to my last takeaway.

Takeaway #5 – Be Ready to Work. This was the most important takeaway for me, and it’s also the most simple. It takes an incredible amount of hard work for Sean, Scott and Susan to run their business each day. It’s nearly impossible to characterize everything each one does through a simple job description. The knowledge alone required to do this job  goes way beyond what any university degree could offer. Sure they apply skills they’ve learned through their experience and education, but more times than not they are learning skills they probably never knew they needed. So hats off to the owners of Forgottonia Brewing for demonstrating to us a simple but essential lesson, that in order to succeed, we must be willing to work hard. And to be successful in rural America, likely means that you’re willing to work that much harder. 

That’s all for now, but please contact us with any comments or questions you have. What do you think it takes to make a business work in rural America?

Additional links to our research about Running a Successful Business in Rural America:

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