Essay: Technical College Emphasizes Entrepreneurship and Business

Teachers who know about entrepreneurship, students graduating with a business plan in hand – this is innovative rural leadership

Weldon Sleight could teach universities and government agencies some things about serving rural people. Sleight heads the College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis, Nebraska, which has taught generations of students on subjects ranging from production agriculture to veterinary science. Recently he made some farsighted changes.

Sleight required the entire faculty to be trained in entrepreneurship so they can help students prepare to start new businesses. And for students returning to the farm or ranch, he added business planning to the curriculum so that every student returns with a business plan for his/her entry into agriculture.

He is working with the USDA Farm Service Agency and Nebraska Department of Agriculture Beginning Farmer Program to assist students in buying or renting farm assets.

Sleight is serious about fulfilling the obligation of his college to serve rural people. He is providing an example of what could be done across rural America by rural people bringing the same spirit of service and innovation to land grant colleges, extension services, state departments of agriculture, community colleges, and high schools.

Think about some possibilities.

- Land grant colleges and community colleges could offer majors in family-size farming with courses on high value markets, diversified agriculture, sustainable agriculture, and farm business management and planning. Just as at the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, the final course could focus on developing a real life business plan to start farming or ranching.

- Colleges of business could offer majors in rural micro enterprise, focusing on the challenges and opportunities for self-employment oriented businesses and businesses with a small number of employees. Courses could focus on tapping into non-local markets, business management, and developing real life business plans.

- Farm cooperatives could help beginning farmers get started and tap into high value markets by identifying profitable niche markets and helping young farmers band together to serve it. The cooperative could offer the products, services, and financing needed for beginning farmers to serve the market. It could arrange research to address the unique production challenges of the high value market.

- Local investment clubs could be formed to invest in start-up small businesses. They could work with local economic development corporations in buying and refurbishing empty buildings and making them available to new businesses.

Local initiative and entrepreneurship are critical to creating genuine opportunity and a better future in rural communities. New government programs have a critical role to play in supporting and enabling local initiative. But they cannot take its place.

Revitalizing rural America starts with us – rural people working together in innovative ways to create a better future. If more of us do like Weldon Sleight and provide some innovative leadership, others will follow.

Agree or disagree? Send your comments to Chuck Hassebrook, chuckh@cfra.org.

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