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Young entrepreneur runs small-town business
MU Extension pilot program helps to revitalize rural communities
BROOKFIELD, Mo. – Rural communities in Missouri are losing their young talent to big cities at a rapid rate. A University of Missouri Extension program is trying to help communities overcome this growing problem by promoting entrepreneurship. Brookfield, a town of 5,000 people, is one of five communities chosen to be part of the pilot program called exCEED, Extension Community Economic and Entrepreneurial Development.
“I think in a lot of communities, students are told they have to leave to be successful,” said Sharon Gulick, MU Extension entrepreneur state specialist and director of the exCEED program. “What we are saying is that they can be successful if they stay.”
In the program, young entrepreneurs are given the resources and support to start their own businesses. Nineteen-year-old Sam Correll, a recent graduate of Brookfield High School, already runs his own screen-printing company. Correll began as an employee at Park Sign Company and, with the help of his parents, purchased the business just one month later. Correll said he relies on local business mentors for the success of his business.
“I don’t think you would succeed if you didn’t try to get help from other people in the community,” Correll said.
MU Extension state specialists believe there is a lot of untapped potential to be explored in rural communities. The exCEED program works with elementary school students to teach them skills they need to be successful entrepreneurs, including how to write business plans, obtain that first loan and network with peers. When students begin to explore their interests, they then can be matched with a mentor to expand their entrepreneurial potential.
“In most communities, downtown merchants who are 70 years old may not have an heir to take over the business,” Gulick said. “There’s a natural linkage that can occur between an existing business owner and a young person in the community.”
The MU Extension program was initiated after data showed a dismal outlook for rural communities.
“If we look at the data on population in Missouri, many rural counties are losing their young adults and their young people after high school graduation,” said Steve Henness, MU Extension youth development coordinator.
Henness suggested that being able to attract and retain young professionals will ensure economic development. With the goal of promoting young entrepreneurship in schools, the extension program hopes to encourage rural youth to learn how to work for themselves and be successful in their hometowns.
“We have hidden talent within our community who may have an idea for a business and just need somebody to step forward to provide assistance to take on that idea,” Gulick said.
MU Extension state specialists work with communities for about two to three years to develop an economic plan. For more information on the MU Extension program visit the Web site, www.extension.missouri.edu.