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Lessons of an “economic gardening” pioneer

April 22, 2019

Family-owned Stewart Industries in Battle Creek was one of the first small businesses in Michigan to participate in Michigan’s innovative “economic gardening” program. The initiative, spearheaded by SBAM and the Edward Lowe Foundation, is designed to help fast-growing second stage companies expand and prosper.

“I think the biggest benefit we got is to be able to do your value stream mapping, as you go through each segment of where your strategic planning is for the next three years, or even annually,” says Erick Stewart, president and CEO of Stewart Industries and a member of the SBAM board of directors. “You know, as an entrepreneur, you’re always looking at that value stream, and where can I make the most margin? And where am positioned with my customer base? How does the rest of the world see me? And where do I fit? Where can I gain advantages? Economic gardening has kind of been the backbone of us taking advantage of that growth piece over the years.”

He thinks a major value of being part of the economic gardening program is easing the sense of isolation. “As an entrepreneur, half the time you’re sitting there when something goes wrong [and] you think you’re the only one and 90 percent of the time you’re not. And somebody else in the room has gone through what you’re going through.”

Stewart believes that small business owners need to be politically active and demand that state officials continue to support policies that help entrepreneurs grow. “We have to hold our elected officials to task and continue to demand that the environment that allows us to grow exists. And if we don’t have a voice of doing that, shame on us for not being at the table and recognizing most things that are really beneficial to advancing not just the mission of entrepreneurialism, but the mission of the state as well.”

Listen to Erick Stewart’s interview with Michael Rogers on the Small Business Weekly Podcast. 

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