Union Co. to develop future entrepreneurs

Monday, December 2, 2013

Union County is the next in line to offer a program that will develop the talents of future entrepreneurs. What makes the program different is that it involves high-school students taking the course outside the school building and in the business community for two course credits.

Rollie Hawk, owner and lead consultant of Union County Technology Solutions and chief information officer of Union County, pledged to donate $3,000 to help fund the Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities, or CEO, program during its first three years.

Union County is home to employees whose work is mostly government-involved -- not too many people start their own business, Hawk said Tuesday.

"We've lost a lot of local talents by not having those industries here," he said.

The CEO program invests in the community by teaching young people that they do not have to move to another part of the country to make their dreams happen, Hawk said. Students learn they are able to create opportunity and jobs locally.

The program will help foster the entrepreneurial spirit in 22 high school students, Hawk said, and not just students who necessarily have the best grade-point-average, but those with creative minds that maybe aren't being reached by their school.

The CEO program began in Effingham County, Ill., and students who participated started a business while still in high school, Hawk said. During the course, students developed a business plan and worked with business professionals and teachers to develop a product or service to sell. At the end of the year, students presented their business plans in a "mini-trade show," he said.

Examples of businesses developed through the course include a wardrobe consulting business and a business that plans meals for customers and provides them with a list of ingredients needed on a monthly basis, Hawk said.

"Some have become businesses that actually are taking place," and have contacts all over the world, he said.

A group of students developed a successful business through the CEO program that created a way to modify truck engines so they are able to run on liquid propane, Hawk said. The students had international buyers interested in their product, however, they ran into an Environmental Protection Agency violation and now are working to modifying their idea, he said.

It was at a trade-show in May that Allen Eddington, executive director of the Union County Economic Development Corporation, saw first-hand the impact the program had on students and teachers in Effingham County, and chose to bring the program to Union County.

Eddington had heard about the CEO program through a webinar about a year ago, and later heard its founder, Craig Limvahl, give a presentation on the program at a conference.

"It's a program that helps them to learn how to learn," Eddington said on Friday of CEO students. "It gives them a focus. It gives them an understanding of why education is important."

Every school day for 90 minutes, students in the program will meet somewhere in the business community outside the school, Eddington said. That way, students already will have begun networking with those in the business community, and hopefully graduate from college and return to Union County to do business, he said.

CEO students in Effingham County are following suit, Eddington said.

"These are kids who understand business, who are entrepreneurs, so Effingham is going to benefit ...," he said. Union County will, too, "because were struggling with business just like many counties in Southern Illinois."

The CEO program in Union County has been accepted by the Midland Institute, and the next steps to have the course started are to form an advisory committee for the program and find a teacher for the course, Hawk said.

A not-for-profit organization has been created to collect donations to fund the program.

All the CEO program's funding comes from the business community, and there is no expectation that the schools will have to make any financial commitment to the program, Eddington said.

The course is planned be offered in fall 2014.

Having the CEO program also qualifies as college credit at Shawnee Community College, and Southern Illinois University is a goal that still is "in the works," Eddington said.



Pertinent addresses:

Union County, IL

Effingham County, IL

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