By Gina Duwe
The Janesville Gazette, Wis.
Business owner Sarah Bauer worked in Madison for years but “quality of life reasons” convinced her to move to Evansville and open a hair salon.
“You can not be a part of this and a part of that, and do this and do that, when you’re up in Madison,” Bauer said Wednesday morning at a meeting of Women Encouraging Evansville Entrepreneurs, or WE3.
“When you’re a smaller community, and you’re a part of something like this, it’s very, very special,” said Bauer, owner of Sarah & Company,469 E. Main St.
Naomi Duggan described her move from the Detroit area in November 2012. She didn’t know anyone in town but wanted to start her own business.
Six months later, she opened Healing Tree Massage and Wellness Center in the lower level of the Eager building downtown. It was important for her to find a group of women to help provide a larger networking team, she said.
She’s found that at WE3, a group of women who own Evansville businesses and are “willing to go above and beyond to the next level to support each other to ensure our businesses succeed,” she said.
Mayor Sandy Decker recalled working with Christina Slaback, executive director of the Evansville Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism, to make a list of women-owned or managed businesses in Evansville as they were starting WE3 a year and a half ago. They listed at least 70.
They didn’t know how people would respond to a female-centered group, but it took off.
“I think that particularly for women it’s nice to have that relationship building, those connections and be able to kind of feed off one another,” Slaback said.
Members are willing to share their struggles and successes, she said. She cited the downtown stores selling repurposed furniture and other items. Instead taking a competitive stance, the business owners welcomed new businesses and referred customers.
The group is not exclusively female. Men have attended on a regular basis.
WE3 is part of what makes other communities look to Evansville. Along with the chamber, the city also boasts an active Inventors & Entrepreneurs Club that attracts people from around the region.
“It’s neat to see and hear other communities look to us as an example of our involvement and activities,” said Rachel Kleven, business development manager at Financial Services Center, 2 E. Main St.
Business turnover every two to three years has been a trend in town, particularly on Main Street, Duggan said.
“As a group of women, together we’re trying to combat that and revitalize and keep it moving,” Duggan said, noting their membership is not just Main Street owners. “The true essence of it is trying to support each other and see each other grow in whatever way, shape or form we can.”
They’ve organized an annual “ladies night” focused on Main Street where businesses stay open late for wine, food and shopping.
Holin Kennen attended her first meeting Wednesday at Creekside Place after opening The Dancing Lamb, a fiber shop, out of her West Main Street home last month.
She’s coming out of the corporate world in Madison with a legal background.
“There’s something about it that just feels a lot more comfortable,” she said. “I don’t feel like I have to be my corporate self. I can be my spinner-fiber person self.”
The WE3 women have varying backgrounds, Duggan said.
“We bring those talents and that knowledge to the table also to help each other out,” she said. “There’s nothing like being a small business and feeling like you’re all alone in the world.”