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Midwest Marketability: Accessibility, low expenses cited as local business benefits

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For Iowan Katie Byers, the Midwest serves as a central connection of the nation, and it offered her a unique inroad to bootstrap a home-concert booking application.

In Springfield, meanwhile, continued economic growth allows entrepreneurs like Shawn Matthews a better chance to try something new but perhaps established elsewhere – with a better chance of making the venture stick.

“I think there’s something really magical about the Midwest,” Matthews said, reflecting on time spent in the eastern United States.

“If I do something on the East Coast, it lasts two seconds. If I do something here, it last 20 years.”

Byers and Matthews joined GigSalad co-founder and CEO Mark Steiner to discuss what makes businesses work in the Midwest as part of The eFactory’s Spin66 Innovation Summit on May 11. The session was dubbed Building Big in the Midwest.

Byers based her HomeDitty in Des Moines, Iowa. Through the web-based mobile application, bands book concerts at residences through hosts, often as they tour nationally, often also to tour the region, she said.

“What I found out through hosting is that the demand for hosts far exceeded the supply,” she said of her initial experience exploring the concept via hosting her own house concerts for traveling musicians. “I just knew there had to be a better way.”

Now, Des Moines serves as a hotbed for those who use the app, Byers said.

Bands then can jump off to additional local gigs at more traditional venues.

“It’s easy to be big news,” she said of working in the Midwest. “I have not spent a penny on marketing.”

Moreover, Byers said, “In Des Moines, you can pretty much send a cold email to pretty much any CEO of a major company and get a coffee appointment with him or her. People are very accessible.”

Among other points made during the roughly 40-minute discussion, Steiner said Midwestern living offers businesses a more affordable bottom line.

Missouri boasts the sixth-lowest cost of living in the United States, with the Springfield metropolitan statistical area being the second-cheapest in the state, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center.

The state’s cost of living index rating was 89.9 in 2017, with a 100 rating being the national average.

GigSalad – also an entertainment booking service but with a wider scope of talent, from balloon twisters to bands and party DJs – is based in Springfield. The company has a secondary office in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Company CEO Steiner said starting in the Midwest has not meant sacrificing professional talent.

“I relocated here from the Northeast in 2004 – in the very beginning stages of creating GigSalad – and without even knowing it, the talent to create the infrastructure of the website itself was going to hardest thing to find,” he said.

“But we did it. And we did it in a market with a lower cost of living.”

Steiner’s GigSalad is among Springfield Business Journal’s Dynamic Dozen fastest-growing companies, to be honored at a May 24 event. The company also recently ranked No. 15 on Entrepreneur.com’s list of the 360 best U.S. entrepreneurial companies and No. 1,738 on the Inc. 5000 with 2016 revenue of $5.1 million and three-year growth of 224 percent.

The geographic leverage can be huge, said Matthews of Swagbot Creative LLC, a Springfield-based business that integrates apparel, media, marketing and promotions for clientele.

“When you’re here in Springfield or Des Moines,” he said, “you don’t think about cost of living, and you don’t think about how we have this amazing leverage.”

Matthews pointed to his clients on the West Coast, where the cost of living is among the highest nationwide, according to MERIC.

“I’m getting paid in California rates and California dollars, and I’m spending in Springfield,” he said.

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