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Talk of the Town

Think your city is too small to build a business in? How does population 650 sound?

How do you build a $1.2 million business in a town with just 650 residents? It's all about treating your employees right. Just ask Duane Ruh, 49, whose Little Log Co., a log birdhouse and bird feeder manufacturer in Sargent, Nebraska, boasts the kind of employee-friendly policies you often read about, but too rarely see put into practice.

Ruh believes it's all about having fun. His 32 employees enjoy a flexible schedule that gives them ample time for personal lives. And even when times aren't much fun, Ruh is committed to his staff.

During a slow period last summer, he cut back on hours rather than lay anyone off. And when he got a buyout offer in 2000 that would have closed his facility but kept him on board with an enviable salary, he turned it down. There just aren't that many jobs in this part of Nebraska that his employees could have gone to. Ruh even encourages employees to pursue side or summer jobs if they need to make extra money, assuring them that their Little Log jobs are safe.

Ruh, who co-founded Little Log Co. in 1995 and became sole owner a year later, surely feels the weight of responsibility in his town-after all, he employs 5 percent of its population. But his unselfish attitude has paid off: In addition to the company's contracts with 65 U.S. colleges, recent contracts with John Deere and National Geographic have boosted business. For Ruh, as for his employees, failure isn't an option: "I think if you really love something, you can't fail at it."

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This article was originally published in the February 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Talk of the Town.

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