Strategies for Business Success: The Best Investments are Local in Nature

Keith J. Akre from Stillman Bank unpacks how investing in yourself and your community can pay off financially.


Let’s start with a question: What is your largest asset?

Many people will respond with “My home” or “My 401(k).” Both of these answers miss a larger opportunity.

For many of us, especially those in the early and mid-career stage, the most valuable asset we have is our ability to work and earn income. It is our human capital. Therefore, your best return will likely come from investing in growing your potential future earnings.

The most obvious example of investing in human capital is educational attainment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that a person with a bachelor’s degree will earn $23,972 more per year, on average, than someone with just a high school diploma.

That effect does not just apply to a bachelor’s degree, but also many other training and development opportunities. I have pointed out the following statistics in the past:

– CPAs earn 35 percent more than non-certified tax professionals, on average.
– Assistant project managers in the construction industry who have a LEED AP certification make about 12 percent more than non-certified professionals, on average.
– Those working in operational roles who hold a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification will make about 9 percent more than non-certified professionals, on average.

The Rockford area has outstanding educational institutions that offer these and many other types of income-enhancing growth opportunities.

Surprisingly, another local investment that pays huge dividends can be found in the Rockford region’s amazing nonprofits.

“Wait, Keith. Aren’t ‘nonprofit’ and ‘huge dividends’ a contradiction of terms?”

Hear me out.

Volunteering for a cause you care about can be incredibly rewarding on a personal level. Studies show that when you feel better about yourself, you perform better at work, and when you perform better at work, you tend to make more money.

Working with the board of a nonprofit organization can teach you a lot about group dynamics, communication and problem solving. These are skills that employers say are highly valued in work settings. Board service looks great on resumes, and being involved in your community shows initiative. All of these things greatly improve your earning potential.

Also, investing time and energy into a community-based organization makes our region a better place to live. Having a nicer community increases the value of our homes and provides greater business and economic opportunities. Think of all the great resources in our area. Many of them are only possible through the efforts of passionate volunteers. These organizations are what make our region such a special place.

So, if you are looking for the best possible return on investment, look at your largest asset. For most people that is your income-earning potential – your human capital.

As you get closer to retirement your financial assets will exceed your future earning potential and more care will need to go into managing those investments. Until that time, your greatest source of return will come from investing in yourself and your community.
We are fortunate to have tremendous local options available for you to do just that.

Keith Akre, CFA, CFP®, is a Trust Officer at Stillman Bank, with locations in Byron, Oregon, Rochelle, Rockford, Roscoe and Stillman Valley, Ill.

Opinions expressed are solely his own and do not express the views or opinions of Stillman Bank. Investments available through Stillman Trust & Asset Management (1) are not FDIC insured (2) are not deposits, obligations, or guaranteed by the bank and (3) are subject to investment risk including possible loss of principal.