Hillsboro youth initiative looks for entrepreneurial incentives

?How ya gonna keep them
in a small town
after they?ve seen KC?....?
Nobody suggested a rousing rendition of this modified World War I song made famous by Al Jolson, but it captures the intent of a gathering of community ?shareholders? interested in seeing local young people make Hillsboro their future home.

Eighteen people representing city government, business and education?including two high school students and two college students?participated March 27 in a city-sponsored mini-retreat called the ?Youth Engagement and Entrepre?neurship Initia?tive.?

?People who were invited to attend the mini-retreat are closely involved with students or had an interest in seeing young people engaged in our town,? said Clint Seibel, event organizer and the city?s economic development director.

Leading the retreat were Leon Atwell of Bennington, representing Advancing Rural Prosperity Inc., and Craig Schroeder, representing the Center for Entrepreneur?ship based in Lincoln, Neb.

The two men reviewed the results of surveys and focus groups involving around 200 students from the local middle school and high school, 100 students from Tabor College, and around 15 to 20 resident young adults.

Participants were asked about their likes and dislikes about Hillsboro and the likelihood of making it their long-term home. (See sidebar, Page 5A.)

?Rural communities generally do a great job educating their young people, but then they send them off to greener pastures,? Seibel said. ?But the surveys we took indicated that 37 percent of our youth would prefer to stay in their home town after high school if quality career opportunities were available.

?Between the surveys and the focus groups, we received a huge amount of data and information from which we are now able to develop some youth engagement and attraction strategies for our community,? Seibel said.

?We definitely have a good idea of what young people want and need in order to move back or stay in a rural community.?

Event background

The mini-retreat was an outgrowth of a ?Hillsboro Eco?nomic Development Strategy Summit? that drew nearly 40 community leaders in business, education and city government in March 2010.

That gathering focused on the ?four pillars? of community development promoted by HomeTown Competitiveness, a Nebraska-based resource designed to help rural communities be competitive in a global society.

The four pillars are entrepreneurship, wealth retention, youth attraction and leadership development.

?We have various organizations in town working on each of these areas, but one of the areas we felt needed some coordination was the youth attraction pillar,? Seibel said.

As a result of Seibel?s connection with Atwell through the HTC program, the city applied for and received a $25,000 grant last summer from the Federal Home Land Bank to fund a local initiative focusing on youth and entrepreneurship.

?Communities like Hillsboro are built on the entrepreneurial spirit in which we develop small businesses that grow and provide jobs,? Seibel said. ?Many of our local industries prove the point.

?We decided to name the project Hillsboro Youth Entrepre?neurship Education,? he added. ?But we needed to first educate ourselves as to what our young people were thinking in relationship to their future goals.?

Group activities

Following the presentation of the survey and focus-group results, retreat participants were asked to identify organizations and activities in the community that address one or more of the following areas: youth entrepreneurship and career development, youth leadership and community service, and adult mentoring and community investment in youth enterprises.

?It was amazing to see the long list of activities we are already doing,? Seibel said. ?Our young people definitely have opportunities for engagement.?

At the same time, Seibel said, the group realized from the data that some shifts in strategy are needed.

?It was interesting to hear from the surveys and focus groups that even though we have a lot of things for youth, they are often left out in the planning and decision-making process,? he said. ?Youth of today do not necessarily want adults to do things to them or for them, they want adults to work with them.?

The retreat concluded with participants forming ?action? groups based on their personal interest in the three topics.

?We divided into smaller groups to work on some strategic plans to involve and integrate young people into our community,? Seibel said. ?We look at this as a long-term project, and implementation of our strategic plans will be ongoing.

?I am excited about the future of Hillsboro and Marion County,? he added. ?But in order for us to have any growth, we will have to become intentional in our efforts.?

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