Western Kansas communities have new support network to encourage new businesses

Economic development professionals in western Kansas now have one more tool in their toolbox for growing local economies -- a program called the Business Development Network, a project to help western Kansas entrepreneurs.

Representatives of 23 western Kansas communities recently completed a four-day educational program in WaKeeney on helping and nurturing new businesses. The program was co-sponsored by Fort Hays State University's Small Business Development Center and the western Kansas Rural Economic Development Alliance (wKREDA).

In this country, more than 94 percent of new jobs are created by small businesses, and in western Kansas the percentage may be even higher. This group of economic development professionals believes that more businesses can be created in their communities if the support system is in place to encourage budding entrepreneurs.

The question is no longer whether entrepreneurs are viable, valuable resources for economic development, but just how profound an impact they are capable of making.

"We know that not every business that starts will be successful. However, there is a lot of good information for start-up businesses to give them the best chance for success," said Susan Bittel, director of the FHSU Small Business Development Center. "We also know that with the right kind of support and information, those new businesses have a better chance of being successful. Successful small businesses will help our communities grow."

The program, "Impacting Economic Development Through Entrepreneurship," was taught by faculty members of the Entrepreneurial Effect. The Entrepreneurial Effect was planned with the assistance of leading economic development organizations including ACCRA, Appalachian Regional Commission, International Economic Development Council, National Association of Development Organizations, National Association of State Development Agencies, National Business Incubation Association, and the National Commission on Entrepreneurship. This was the first time the program was offered in western Kansas.

The program is an opportunity for local officials to learn how entrepreneurial success can foster growth and provide critical balance to a community's economic development portfolio. More than 45 people spent four days learning how to assess the entrepreneurial environment of their community; understand the characteristics of a successful entrepreneur; determine a community's entrepreneurial action plan; understand the stages of a business venture start-up; and find additional resources to help with implementation.

The next step for economic development directors and other attendees will be to encourage people in western Kansas counties to seriously consider their business idea.

WKREDA members began discussing ways to encourage more new business start-ups about six months ago, and through their research learned about The Entrepreneurial Effect program. After reviewing the curriculum, wKREDA members agreed that bringing this program to western Kansas was an important step toward fostering new businesses.

"If you look at most of our western Kansas businesses, they were started by western Kansas people," said Roger Hrabe, Rooks County Economic Development director and member of wKREDA. "We need to make sure that anyone in the community with a good idea is supported and encouraged to develop that business. The last thing we want is for someone to think that they need to move to Denver or Kansas City to start their business. We have resources to help them do it right here."

Local economic development groups have always worked with new businesses. What is different about this program is the way it brings resource providers together to create a larger team of people supporting new businesses. Individuals who contact a member of the Business Opportunity Network will receive information, referrals, and another team member working with them to navigate the planning and start-up process.

Now that the training is completed, local representatives will promote the program and identify people with ideas for new businesses.

"We know that not all of the ideas put forward will be successful. Not all the new businesses started will make it," said Sharla Krenzel, director of Wichita County Economic Development in Leoti.

"We also know that with the right kind of support and information, those new businesses have a better chance of being successful. Successful small businesses will help our communities grow."

More information on the program is available from Susan Bittel, FHSU SBDC, (785) 628-6786, sbdc@fhsu.edu, or from the western Kansas Rural Economic Development Alliance, 1-800-982-3501, www.wkreda.com.

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