KC Belitz: Looking at entrepreneurship in Nebraska

Originally published in the Columbus Telegram

Entrepreneurship remains alive and well in Nebraska! I wanted to share a few highlights from Nebraska Community Foundation’s Energizing Entrepreneurial Ecosystems (E3) gathering out west in Keith County last week.

We know entrepreneurs are working in the Columbus region and every other area of our state. So as you hear these stories from Ogallala and Paxton, just know similar examples exist in your hometown as well.

I would highlight four entrepreneurship stories from last week.

One highlight of the first day of our visit to Keith County was a stop at the Hehnke’s grocery store in Paxton. This store has become one of an increasing number of community-owned stores in Greater Nebraska. Their stellar meat department supplies local restaurants and a wide range of customers. And without that local investment, this resource would likely no longer be serving people in Keith County (or at least not for much longer). This is a great example of a community taking an entrepreneurial approach, together, to solve a community challenge. That’s one great definition of an “entrepreneurial ecosystem!”

Speaking of using community assets, we visited Second Chapter Brewing in Ogallala. The owners Richard and Lisa are actually on the E3 team in Keith County. They have taken a former library and brought new life to the space while honoring its past in creating a brewery that will be a huge community attraction.

We had dinner at Boxcar in Ogallala and met Julia, the owner. She mentioned that she brought several staff with her in her car from her restaurant in Santa Fe, New Mexico so she’d have the necessary staff for the summer on the lake. It’s a great illustration that sometimes entrepreneurs have to just figure out solutions.

One other cool moment was Friday morning when Travis, the owner of the coffee cart serving our group, told us he had just quit his full-time job to pursue his passion of serving coffee and guiding kayak trips. While good entrepreneurs calculate the risks they take, they do all eventually have to take a risk (or more than one) and it was inspiring to see someone take the plunge to do what he loves as his full-time career.

These are specific instances that we got to experience last week. Equally impactful to me was the more general momentum that we heard in all five E3 communities. In the E-team updates on Thursday, the energy, momentum, activity and growing confidence was readily felt. And what was particularly interesting was how each of the five is finding their unique path (again, just what entrepreneurs do!).

Holt County is getting interested in business succession as their focus. Valley County is building on the work of their local business coach. Red Cloud is finding their way forward in combining their efforts in heritage tourism with entrepreneurship. Keith County is pursuing the idea of hiring a navigator to help leverage the growth opportunities in front of them into more successful entrepreneurs. And Sidney is learning how to best utilize the time of Alisha, their new Entrepreneurship Navigator, to keep their current momentum (which is extraordinary) in business success.

Again, I want to remind you that wherever you are reading this, you too have these same things happening. And further, I would remind you that this fact has never been more important as the face of economic development has changed. Today in Nebraska, economic opportunities are created by these local entrepreneurs as opposed to the traditional model of recruiting a “home run” employer from somewhere else. That’s why NCF began the E3 initiative to build more successful ecosystems, to grow entrepreneurs across Greater Nebraska . . . and that’s why this should be a key part of your local economic development strategy as well!

Today in Nebraska, economic opportunities are created by local entrepreneurs...

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