The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Forrest Hershberger
Sidney Sun-Telegraph 

Business Luncheon Focuses on Networking


October 2, 2019

Developing your place in business needs networking and sharing resources.

That is the message Western Nebraska Community College Sidney Campus Director Paula Abbot and others encouraged during a lunch meeting Sept. 26 with business owners and potential entrepreneurs.

Western Nebraska Community College's Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I & E) program hosted a lunch meeting on how to move from concept to profitable business. The meeting included representatives from the Nebraska Department of Labor, Nebraska Enterprise Fund, Panhandle Area Development District, Cheyenne County Chamber of Commerce, Sidney Public Library and Sidney and Cheyenne County Economic Development.

The luncheon was held in the Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, the former cosmetology center at the college.

During the luncheon, agency representatives explained what they have to offer people exploring business ownership or expansion. Several of the agencies explained financing options and how they partner with or compliment back options.

“We are not here to compete with the bank,” said Marla Marx. “We are here to assist the bank.”

Marx is a Business Program Specialist with the USDA.

She said the USDA also has the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). The REAP program offers 25 percent grant of eligible costs for anything that makes your business or agriculture operation more energy efficient or replaces energy with renewable sources. Energy efficient projects must have a minimum eligible cost of $6,000 to receive a $1,500 grant, and $10,000 in costs to earn a $2,500 grant. The REAP program also has guaranteed loan funds of 50 percent of the eligible project costs to combine with a 25 percent grant.

Marx said they can guarantee up to 85 percent of a loan.

“It just allows some of our smaller banks to act like bigger banks,” she said.

Donna Kuskie, Workforce Coordinator for the Nebraska Department of Labor, addressed programs on employer services, job seeker services and classroom training. She said the Department of Labor has programs assisting workers trying to return to the workforce, and employers seeking to hire, and sometimes train, new employees. The DOL can help with applicant screening, training for displaced workers and assistance for companies hiring qualified employees for on-the-job-training. She stressed that the employer does the training. The DOL assists with the cost during the training period.

“You have to remember, we're not doing this for years and years,” she said.

Kuskie said OJT cannot last more than six months. Also, the employee has to be part of the OJT program before being hired. The DOL cannot qualify an existing employee into the program.

Economic Development Director Melissa Norgard said biggest local program is the LB840 grant funds. The LB840 assists businesses new to Sidney with reimbursement funds based on the number of new jobs created and the amount of added to the company's payroll. She said funds are also available for facade enhancement up to $5,000, a signage grant for up to a 50 percent match and rental assistance. The rental assistance program is where a qualified business owner can receive up to $500 per month in rental assistance for six months. If the business stays open for three years, the loan will be forgiven, Norgard said.

Chamber of Commerce President Hope Feeney explained the Chamber's role in supporting and promoting business in the county. She said rates are prorated, and I & E clients start at the base rate of $170 per year. She said events including ribbon cuttings and Business After Hours are scheduled to promote businesses. The Chamber also has a business directory to refer services.

Sidney attorney Jeff Shoemaker, who has an office in the I & E center, was highlighted as an asset at the center.

“He will walk you through those steps until 'yeah, we're doing real legal work,'” Abbot said.

Andrew “Sherm” Sherman talked on the assets available at the Sidney Public Library. The library has computers and printers, online research, meeting rooms and one of the latest assets: Makerspace where graphic designs of nearly any imagination can be completed.

Business concepts discussed in the luncheon included one who wanted to expand her apartment building ownership with a community building, building of round structures similar to a yurt, a direct-to-consumer soft goods retail outlet and one who wants to open a family resource center. Also present were Dave Fritz of Agency 39 (a client of the I & E center) and Jenny Rodine representing Rodine Communications.

Abbot stressed the importance of networking between agencies and with other entrepreneurs.

“You never know when you'll need any of these people,” she said.


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