The young professional and entrepreneurial spirit in Wayne, Nebraska has a couple of standouts in Lukas and Mark, who own both Rustic Treasures and The Coffee Shoppe adjacent to it on Main Street. Although Lukas could count on both hands the number of similar entrepreneurs, he observed that their slice of Main Street is a vibrant retail hub. I observed in turn that Lukas is vibrant. His enthusiasm is uncontainable and he’s a chatterbox, but a smart, insightful and entertaining one. Mark is the calm and unflappable one, according to Lukas.
The success of their business, Rustic Treasures, can be seen in the numbers, in a year growing staff from a couple to six full-time and four part-time and increasing revenues threefold. But it isn’t just their success that caught my attention, it is that they are a paradigm of the entrepreneurial ethos that every community should be seeking and nurturing. Lukas, for example, told me that he cleans the street of trash every morning along their entire block. They use social media not only to promote their store, but as a retailing extension to publicize new or sought after items, creating a sense of urgency that attracts customers who race for that piece. As for engagement, the two team members I engaged with, Lauren and Nancy Jo, manifested the kind of commitment, enjoyment and fulfillment that other businesses pay thousands of dollars to conjure in their culture. Their passion extends to community, with Lukas volunteering in economic development activities and Mark, a gifted chorister, performing in their church choir. In some respects, their public profile is almost too much of a burden.
Omaha could do well to learn from the personal and business philosophy demonstrated by Lukas and Mark. And that is a problem. While Lukas is part of an initiative that brings together other rural catalysts, he notes a disinterest from the larger urban hubs of Omaha and Lincoln. It seemed to me that Lukas was not just discouraged, but upset at the rejection, as if the more prominent urban centers were too proud or, as Lukas said, “snooty,” to embrace young professionals and entrepreneurs beyond their borders. Lukas told me he had thought of attending the Omaha Young Professionals Summit, but wondered if a lack of confidence had prevented him. I laughed at the suggestion, given how motivated and ebullient Lukas is, though now I wonder if he was revealing truthfully the insidious impact of feeling neither included nor affirmed.
I admire the vigor of the business community in Omaha, especially on the part of younger professionals. Yet I was reminded by Lukas and Mark that we can be guilty of an insularity that is afforded us by the comparatively ready market and money in that city. I am guilty of the same myopia. Being embraced so openly and intelligently, however, by Lukas and Mark and being impressed by their effervescent approach to life and work made me realize that we need to nurture these opportunities to learn and connect. We must go to these places and connect with these people. We must create space to invite them and their insights to our communities. After all, if we are unwilling to learn from others demonstrating unique success and to explore uncharted places and perspectives, just how entrepreneurial are we?