It’s official, the first Certified Entrepreneurial Community® under the relaunched program is Cleveland County, NC. The CEC® Program is an economic development strategy that equips communities to become entrepreneur-ready. Creative Economic Development Consulting retooled and relaunched the CEC® Program in 2015. For background on the CEC® Program visit

As our team wraps up the process for the Certified Entrepreneurial Community® Program in Cleveland County, we’ve taken time to reflect on the specific variables which helped to make CEC® so effective in this community. We’ve been asking ourselves, “Why exactly is this community such a rock star?” And more importantly, “how do we bring the rock-star power of Cleveland County to other areas, with just as much untapped potential?” You can read what the local media had to say about it here.


The CEC® team closely examined all the components of the Cleveland County entrepreneurial ecosystem. We found similarities with other communities: engaged service providers, active entrepreneurs, available resources, ongoing events, and passionate advocates. On the surface, Cleveland County has all the same assets as everyone else, so what catalyzed their activities?  What exactly is their Secret Sauce?

We looked in-depth at what lurked ‘beneath the surface,’ what elements we either took for granted or looked over at first glance. Our team recognized how the most powerful strength of Cleveland County is also hardest to quantify and fully define; their culture. With a robust and well-maintained community of volunteerism, Cleveland County on a local and government level has nurtured a long established culture of collaboration. One early example of this ethos is the financing of the CEC® Program by a unanimous commitment of the County Commissioners and all 15 municipalities. Those who work in community development can appreciate strength and commitment of this 100% fiscal investment from every town in a county (especially when there are 15 of them!).

Our team recognized that the unseen elements in the work of growing entrepreneurial ecosystems can be the drivers of ultimate success. The core of an entrepreneurial community can be summed up in one word: relationships. The transfer of ideas, resources, and morale happens when people feel safe enough to build solid, trusting relationships. And this trusting culture is exactly what makes a community like Cleveland County so unique.


A capstone of the CEC® Program is identifying and selecting two projects which will most effectively catalyze the local entrepreneurial ecosystem. After months of discussion, research, and deliberation, the Leadership Team chose to 1) launch a Service Provider Network, and 2) build an online Business Resource Guide. These two projects connect people to resources and provide a clear roadmap to navigate the ecosystem.

After launching two foundational projects, Cleveland County looks forward to leveraging the strength of their culture and leadership to support and grow their entrepreneurial community. While Cleveland County has unique attributes, every community holds the potential for accomplishment with clear goals, broad participation, and strong leadership.  Being a part of this community leveraging and growing their entrepreneurial ecosystem has been an awesome experience and one that the CEC® Team will build on.

As the Cleveland County Team takes this designation for a spin, they will begin tackling their ‘Year 2 Action Plan’ for their community.  Does your community have what it takes to become a Certified Entrepreneurial Community®? To learn more about the CEC® Program in Cleveland County, their leadership, and programs, visit the community website at

Further information can be found in the CEC® Designation Article in the Shelby Star –here.