MarketPlace: Opening Doors to Success Was Hugely Successful!

This Month's Feature Article

The Center’s first annual MarketPlace conference is now over, and it is one for the record books. The event’s success was evident from the overflowing parking lot at Kearney’s Ramada Inn, the bustling hallways within, and the over 500 people who faced an impending storm to turn out in droves. Attendees of all ages came from 10 states and Canada, including Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon, Utah, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. In Nebraska, 134 communities were represented.

An upbeat atmosphere and feeling of excitement permeated the entire conference. From the red and blue skirted exhibits, 52 of them, to the congregation of folks gathered for the morning, noon, and afternoon speakers, the buzz of excitement held up for most of the day, even as the weather turned less certain for the ride home.

Sessions on marketing and finance were in high demand, though attendance was fairly evenly spread throughout the day’s teach-in tracks. Even sessions with fewer audience members reported great discussions and information. For many, it was full-speed ahead for the 10 hours the conference lasted.

The target audience for the conference was rural people with an interest in small business and entrepreneurship. MarketPlace evaluations showed that, by and large, we reached that group – around 51 percent of attendees were self-employed. An additional 16 percent want to start a business. About 15 percent of those filling out evaluations were service providers, 5 percent students/teachers, and 13 percent “other.”

For an inaugural event, we were extremely pleased with how smoothly the day unfolded. Event evaluations reflected this as well. On a scale of 1 (low) to 4 (high), the conference received an average overall score of 3.5. Overwhelmingly, people found the conference sessions to be the most useful feature.

We also received a lot of good feedback and suggestions for improvement for next time. These included multiple requests to repeat the most popular teach-ins and allow more time for networking. Other practical suggestions like distributing snacks throughout the exhibit hall to encourage traffic flow were received and appreciated as well.

A great deal of credit for the success of the conference goes to the partnerships we developed in bringing the event to Nebraska. A grant from USDA Rural Development helped to make it possible, as did financial and in-kind contributions from GROW Nebraska, Mile Wide Media, the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, the Nebraska Public Power District, and the University of Nebraska’s Rural Initiative and Center for Applied Rural Innovation.

Other supporters included Cedar Knox Public Power, Community Lottery Systems, Inc., Huntel Systems, and Omaha Public Power District. Friends included Business Services, Inc., Nebraska Bankers Association, The Economic Development Council of Buffalo County, and B&B Video Productions.

Kathie Starkweather was the driving force at the Center for Rural Affairs in bringing this event together, ably assisted by others on our staff. Joy Marshall, Performance Planners, deftly managed MarketPlace conference planning for us from her home office in Arthur, Nebraska.

Just about the entire Center staff had a role in MarketPlace: Opening Doors to Success, as did our volunteer presenters and moderators representing other organizations and specialties. We also appreciate the guidance provided by North Dakota’s Marketplace for Entrepreneurs, which we patterned our conference after. Senator Kent Conrad, Scott Stofferahn, and Marilyn Kipp were particularly helpful.

The Center has applied for another grant to help bring MarketPlace 2008 to Nebraska. Several other states are also interested in duplicating the conference. If you would like more information about MarketPlace, contact Kathie Starkweather at 402.687.2104 x 1014 or

You can find information about this year’s conference at And stay tuned to the Center’s site, for updates on this and other Center activities).

Thanks to Jeff Leanna for taking the MarketPlace photos and to Jeff and Brian Depew for their technical services throughout the day.

MarketPlace Quotes

“I wanted to “Thank You” for the MarketPlace event. It was definitely worth closing our store for a day for all the information we received. I believe many, many other attendee’s felt the same way. The time spent in attendance delivered three new clients (name tag tipped them off to what we do) and may have made us multi thousands of dollars through “Nebraska Advantage” courtesy of Bill Roe of the Nebraska Department of Revenue. Great job and thanks for putting this together for all of us; it is sincerely appreciated!”

– Alan Mais, The Camera Doctor, 

“We just wanted to drop you a note to say “THANK YOU” and tell you how much we enjoyed Wednesday’s conference. Our two sons, Ryan and Garrett, got just as much out of it as I did.

We really appreciate all the hard work everyone did to pull this off and hope you continue it in the future. Please tell everyone who put their hard work and effort into this event, that it was greatly appreciated!”

– Rebecka Fleischman

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