In Praise of the Side Hustle, the Unsung Hero of Strong Local Economies

By Greg Prestemon, CEO 

This week Paul Singh, an investor, startup expert, and former Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the White House stopped by OPO Startups on his Results Junkie North American Tech Tour.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the event, but a couple of members from my team relayed what Paul had to say about economic development. Having founded or invested in literally hundreds of businesses, Paul knows something about growing companies and creating jobs.

During his presentation at OPO he said, “Once a company gets to seven employees, it’s rooted. It is highly unlikely to ever move.”

As an economic developer, I can tell you that Singh is right: It is exceptionally rare for any company—let alone a large company—to move. The disruption to customers, lost productivity, and impact on employees usually outweighs any potential tax incentive. Opportunities to attract relocating businesses do happen, however, and at the St. Charles County EDC Business and Community Partners, we will do everything to help businesses see why our county is such a special place.

But relocations are rare.

Very rare.

Which is why I thought the follow-up part of Singh’s presentation was so important. Specifically, he said communities and economic developers should do everything they can to support and encourage the entrepreneur who has found a way to make money on a “side hustle.”

Not familiar with the term “side hustle”?

It means the business you’re doing on the side while your day job provides the bulk of your income. For some people, a side hustle is just that: a nice way to make some money for a family vacation, pay off some debt, or send your kid to college.

However, sometimes a side hustle can grow into something much bigger.

One example of a side hustle resonates personally. I’m incredibly proud of my daughter-in-law, Alexis, and the online retail business she’s built. It is far more than a side hustle—it’s become a legitimate retail juggernaut.

For most entrepreneurs, starting their business as a side hustle is a necessity.

Why is that?

The image of the entrepreneur as a 19-year-old student with little to lose isn’t really accurate. Research shows most successful entrepreneurs get their start in their 30s. At that age, most aspiring entrepreneurs have responsibilities that won’t allow them to quit their day jobs.

They need to ease their way into entrepreneurship.

As economic developers, we need to recognize high-potential side hustlers. In St. Charles County, we are fortunate to have Worth Clark Realty, one of the fastest growing companies in the state of Missouri. They are the only Missouri company to make the top 500 on the Inc. 5000 list two years in a row.

Five years ago, that company was founder Bryan Bowles’ side hustle.

Today Worth Clark Realty has more than 30 employees and 260 contractors in four states.

Not every side hustle turns into a small business empire like my daughter-in-law’s company or Worth Clark Realty.

But most business empires do start as side hustles.

So because of that, we need to support entrepreneurs/one-time side hustlers like Alexis and Bryan and do everything we can to help their business go from side hustle to a fully rooted, job-creating company.