By Tim Leeds
Havre and north-central Montana have taken another step forward to engage modern technology and thinking in creating and sustaining vitality in the region.
Jim Salmons and Timlynn Babitsky, founders of Sohodojo in North Carolina, are moving to Havre. Babitsky has been named director of the North America Rural Futures Institute, and Salmons will be "entrepreneur and futurist in residence" at NARFI. They will continue to operate Sohodojo here.
"We want to bring our skills and experience and crank up the volume," Salmons said today.
Jonathan Richter, founder and program director of NARFI, said their appointment marks an exciting time.
"The capacity for us to bring in world-class experts in a variety of industries has just multiplied," he said. "They're both respected in the academic and in the applied business worlds. They have connections all over the place."
NARFI, authorized by the Montana Board of Regents in July 2001, is a research institute at Montana State University-Northern created to identify and implement ways for rural areas to create a viable, sustainable future using modern ideas, technology and trends.
Sohodojo is on the forefront of one of those trends the idea of the "nanocorp." A nanocorp, or "ruthlessly small business," consists of one person or family. The reason it is ruthlessly small, Salmons and Babitsky say, is that it will always remain small as far as personnel go. Its founding members will always remain its only employees.
Sohodojo is a nonprofit independent applied research and development laboratory with the goal of helping solo entrepreneurs and families in rural and distressed urban communities succeed in the modern economy.
Salmons said they started Sohodojo because the research being done was all by major businesses or universities, and focused on large business instead of solo or family businesses. One of Sohodojo's main projects has been to convince those research laboratories that the idea of the nanocorp should also be researched, he said.
Their purpose in coming to NARFI is to make it live up to its name, Babitsky said. They will work to make Havre and north-central Montana a living laboratory for creating sustainable development, and will engage people from around the continent in the research and discussion.
"How can we use this institute for an incubator of ideas and programs to make the area a living laboratory for the future of rural areas," Babitsky said.
Their arrival in Havre depends on how long it takes the couple to sell their house which is also their office in Raleigh, N.C. They plan to be in Havre by January, Babitsky said.
They have been in close contact with Richter and Northern Provost Roger Barber to push the project forward, Babitsky said. They have an Internet connection with the university and are working for the program already.
"That's one of the beauties of the Internet," Salmons said. "So much of what needs to be done next is thinking and writing, starting to develop stakeholders and grants."
Northern Chancellor Alex Capdeville lauded Salmons and Babitsky in a press release announcing their appointment.
"Babitsky's appointment is a significant step for NARFI and its role as a leader in the future of rural America," he said. "Ms. Babitsky and Mr. Salmons have a national reputation among people and organizations who focus on rural futures. They are especially recognized for innovations in small-business development, and their concern for rural America is especially significant."
The married couple live the life they are researching. They started JFS Consulting in 1984 to help put themselves through graduate school, Salmons said, and left their jobs as "corporate road warriors" at IBM to start Sohodojo in 1998.
Their role in Havre will be an example of the "portfolio life" Sohodojo advocates, he added.
In the modern economy, fewer and fewer people will be able to work one job for all of their lives, they said. Rather, people will be working a variety of jobs at the same time, using a variety of skills and contacts.
While Babitsky's job as NARFI director will add to her income for the family, Salmons will continue to work through JFS Consulting and his other jobs. His work at NARFI is not a paid position.
Salmons' multiple roles will be an example of how to live the portfolio life.
Salmons will also work with the Montana Cooperative Development Center at Northern, and the couple will try to stimulate local entrepreneurs to start businesses they can work with, he said.
As NARFI director, the infrastructure of the institute, its goals, objectives and missions will be under Babitsky's direction, she said.
Salmons said they are trying to put a different spin on an idea put forth by Richard Florida in his book, "The Rise of the Creative Class."
In his book, Florida says the creative class people like writers, artists, musicians and community leaders who are actively engaged "in making the area a cool place to be" create success in the modern economy, Salmons said.
But Florida focuses on areas in metropolitan America, he added. What Salmons and Babitsky are trying to show is that the same can be true in rural areas, and they are talking to Florida to persuade him of it, Salmons said.
That is part of what attracted them to Havre.
"It's in extreme geographic isolation, yet you have kind of a microcosm of what this creative class is," he said. "It's also on more of a human scale. You can get things done instead of being just one among many."