by Greg Prestemon
I’ve referenced this in a few of my articles, but last year I read a piece in The Atlantic that discussed how and why communities succeed in an increasingly polarized country. Part of the research the writer, James Fallows, did was to identify 11 traits successful communities share.
While each trait was different, together they created a portrait of communities that were fun, interesting, diverse, welcoming, and vibrant.
That’s why craft breweries made the list—even though craft breweries generally aren’t huge job creators.
One of the ways a craft brewery benefits a community is by making a community feel hip, young, and cool. Being hip matters to millennials—but it’s also important to an old guy like me. When you turn 60, like I just did, living in a vibrant, dynamic place is important. It helps you feel young and alive.
But a craft brewery isn’t the only hip, cool, different thing you can have in a community.
There’s also cricket.
Wait a minute, you say, cricket? You mean that game the Brits play that looks to most American eyes like baseball reimagined by someone who took LSD?
Yep, that’s the one.
A little while ago I met Ajay Jhamb, founder and Executive Director of the American Cricket Academy. Ajay immigrated to the United States from India about 15 years ago, received his Master’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Missouri – St. Louis, and has worked his way up at Enterprise Holdings (the rental car company).
Ajay is also a born hustler. In addition to his role at Enterprise, he hustles for the kids in the cricket academy he started. He and other parents have grown the academy from just six kids to well over 150—and the entire nonprofit runs on volunteer contributions of time and money.
But Ajay’s academy is about more than just cricket. Participating children focus on three aspects of their development:
Whenever Ajay talks about the focus of the academy, cricket is always third on his list. His main priority is engaging with the community and helping kids understand their role in making the world a better place. For Ajay and the academy, the game comes second.
I heard Ajay talk about what he’s done, and it made me think two things:
The first is that this is what sports are all about. This is why the St. Louis Cardinals matter so much to our region. We don’t agree on everything and we might not root for the same politicians—but unlike October in an election year, in October of a playoff year we are all on the same side. Sports unite us and break down all sorts of barriers, and in this day and age we can use all of that we can get.
The second is that things like Ajay’s academy are an important and overlooked part of economic development. When you have a job like mine, it’s easy to think of economic development as the big employer that relocates to your town—but before that can happen, you need your community to be a fun, welcoming place that will attract the people who will work for that employer.
Ajay Jhamb is a social entrepreneur who’s playing a role in making our community a little more diverse and a lot more fun. Along the way, he and everyone involved in his organization are helping mold some great kids—each of whom might create the next amazing company in the unlikely community they grew up playing cricket in:
St. Charles County, Missouri.
If you get the chance, reach out to Ajay and learn more about the American Cricket Academy. It’s one of the great things happening in a region that’s one of the best places to live, work, and begin your next great adventure—like starting a cricket academy.
Greg Prestemon is President and CEO of the St. Charles County EDC Business and Community Partners.