Training Seminar for Ag Business Professionals

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Niche farmers hope to increase profits through networking and growing beautiful fields of lavender.
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Both bees and lavender could be used to make a living farming a niche.

For a small-business owner, a niche farmer, or someone looking for a way to keep the homestead solvent, a professional seminar may be just the ticket. Hays, Kansas, was recently the site of one such seminar, Kansas MarketPlace, co-sponsored by the Center for Rural Affairs, Lyons, Nebraska, and the Kansas Commerce Department’s Rural Development Division.

The event, patterned after several successful events in Nebraska, drew a crowd of close to 250 participants, exhibitors and sponsors.

“The turnout for Kansas MarketPlace demonstrates that rural people are resourceful and are looking for ways to create a better future for their families, their communities, and their farms, ranches and mainstreet business,” says John Crabtree, media director for the Center for Rural Affairs (CFRA). “We are excited to have brought this diverse group of people together, and we are looking forward to continuing to learn from one another about new ways of overcoming the challenges we face in our rural communities.”

“The goal for the event was to support entrepreneurial development in rural Kansas,” says Kathie Starkweather, CFRA’s director for rural opportunities and stewardship program, “through professional seminars that met small business owners’ needs and networking with other small businesses and organizations with tools and programs for small-business needs.”

Two keynote speakers – Andrew McCrea and Don Landoll – provided personal insight into small business. McCrea, a farmer/rancher and award-winning radio broadcaster from Maysville, Missouri, brought his unique perspective and folksy humor to the group, talking about networking and rural entrepreneurship. In his experience, much of networking is just being good people, and that networking, while it won’t replace advertising, can be a great boost to small businesses.

Don Landoll owns Landoll Corp., now an internationally known manufacturer of heavy equipment trailers and other equipment. The Marysville, Kansas, business began as a two-man welding operation and has expanded to employ 540 people in buildings housing more than 450,000 square feet of manufacturing space. Landoll sees his company’s success coming from quality products, quality people and quality customers.

Participants in the two-day Kansas MarketPlace took the opportunity to learn what resources are available to small-business owners and to visit with others in similar situations, sharing ideas and solutions to myriad challenges facing small-business owners and small-farm owners today. The event also provided more than 40 sessions on topics in marketing, finance, business development, technology, community and agriculture, including presentations on agritourism, marketing for small-business owners and revitalizing rural communities through youth ownership programs.

An evening reception, hosted by the Kansas Department of Commerce’s (KDOC) Simply Kansas trademark program, showcased food and agriculture products from around the state. On the menu were items from Alma Creamery and Grandma Hoerner’s Foods, both in Alma; New Grass Bison, Shawnee; Original Juan Specialty Foods, Kansas City; Mama Dida’s Salsa, Stilwell; Amy’s Meats and Sleepy Jean’s Confections, both in Lawrence; Rabbit Creek Products, Louisburg; Browniepops, LLC, Leawood; Rees Fruit Farm, Topeka; Diamond S Vineyard and Winery, Russell; Smoky Hill Vineyard and Winery, Salina; Sommerset Ridge Vineyard and Winery, Paola; and Lb. Brewing Co., Hays.

Starkweather says the CFRA and KDOC termed the event a success. “We expect next year’s to be even bigger with more attendees,” she says, “but the numbers we reached this year for a first-year event were excellent. Relationships were built, networks formed, and attendees were extremely satisfied with what they learned.”

“This was an excellent conference. There was a lot of social networking involved. We met a lot of fellow business owners with whom we were able to discuss various avenues of furthering and bettering our business. We also established business and friendly relationships with business owners outside of our own community who we are happily working with since the conference,” wrote a respondent to a CRFA survey.

The CFRA hosts a Nebraska MarketPlace February 23 and 24 in Kearney. For more details, and to check for information on other such events in Kansas and Colorado, check the CFRA website, or contact Joy Marshall, MarketPlace event planner, at 402-614-5558.

To contact the organization, visit the Simply Kansas website, e-mail ruraldev@kansascommerce.com, or call 785-296-6080.