August 10, 2023

“Who Owns the Ice House?” Energizing the Dan River Region

The book “Who Owns the Ice House?” was brought to our attention at a conference hosted by North Carolina A&T Cooperative Extension called the Grassroots Leadership Conference. At the conference, the Thomas Entrepreneurship Hub of UNC-Pembroke conducted an enlightening session called ‘Starting a Business: From Idea to Reality’ and provided a free copy of “Who Owns the Ice House?” to a few of us in the audience.

After reading the book, our two offices – the River District Association of Danville, VA, and the City of Danville Office of Economic Development & Tourism – decided to go further and reached out to Clifton Taulbert, whose life was the focus of this engaging and challenging entrepreneurial story. We were moved by his journey and the book’s protagonist, Uncle Cleve, and we saw it as an opportunity to energize our region for the possibilities that could come from embracing an entrepreneurial way of thinking and planning our future. We grew our collaborative team to include The Launch Place, Black Business Collaborative, Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce, Longwood Small Business Development Center, Averett University Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and Project Imagine – collectively known as the Dan River Region Entrepreneur Ecosystem.

Planning for Community Event

After a year and a half of patiently meeting and planning, our region – the Dan River Region located at the border of Southern Virginia and North Carolina – hosted international speaker, author, and entrepreneur Clifton Taulbert for a two-day visit. On the first day, Taulbert addressed an audience of 250 community members who represented a large mixture of industries, businesses large and small, institutions, neighborhoods, races, and ages. In his talk titled ‘A Bold Entrepreneurial Mindset,’ Taulbert took us through the “five doors” of an entrepreneurial mindset that anyone can open: Inquisitiveness, imagination, introspection, growth mindset, and culture. We learned later that many audience members energetically took the night’s message back to their places of work, homes, and families.

On the second day, our collaborative group hosted a breakfast meeting of approximately thirty stakeholders from across our region representing the region’s entrepreneur ecosystem partners and local small businesses. Taulbert facilitated the conversation titled ‘Breakfast with the Future: Twenty-five Years Out.’ Seventeen organizations were present, including Averett University, Caswell County Schools, City of Danville Office of Economic Development and Tourism, Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce, Danville Regional Foundation, Epstein Clark Consulting, Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, Longwood Small Business Development Center, Ma’s Cakes, Movement Bank, Negril Inc., Project Imagine, River District Association, The Launch Place, Tri-County Community Action Agency, Vance Street Missionary Baptist Church, and W & W Luxury Limousine Service. We were collectively charged with thinking twenty-five years into the future and asking ourselves: How will the Dan River Region be defined for those not yet born?

Engaging the Community

Two months before Clifton Taulbert’s visit, we provided a free copy of “Who Owns the Ice House?” to each River District Association’s small business education program graduate, called the ‘RDA Dream Launch Bootcamp.’ Seventy-six graduates were encouraged to read the book for additional knowledge about small business ownership, and many attended Taulbert’s talk.

Two months after Taulbert’s visit, our local bookstore – The Dog-Eared Page Bookshop, owned by Catherine Carter – hosted two book club discussions on “Who Owns the Ice House?” Eight people attended the first book club, and fifteen people attended the second to share thoughts and opinions about the book’s lessons.

Overall, the number one takeaway for us from “Who Owns the Ice House?” was the affirmation that small businesses in our community, like Ma’s Cakes, owned by Annette and Charles Walker, as well as The Dog-Eared Page Bookshop – to name a few – provide more than their lovable and essential products. They provide another type of immeasurable good. These business owners and their families provide us with joy, inspiration, and “gumption,” as Uncle Cleve would say.

Will Mackaman
River District Association
Danville, VA