Conference Focuses on Entrepreneurial Development in Nebraska Communities

by Russell Shaffer | Rural Prosperity Nebraska

Carl Simmons
Carl Simmons of Golden Prarie Bison presents on creating a niche tourism market at Price’s Gallery, in Valentine, at the 2023 CEC Conference. Photo by Russell Shaffer
March 29, 2024

Lincoln, Neb. —Sidney is welcoming community development professionals from across the country for the 6th annual Connecting Entrepreneurial Communities Conference May 1-2. Hosted by Rural Prosperity Nebraska, the conference features workshops, seminars and keynote lectures by experts in all things community development, from building tourism assets to strengthening entrepreneurial ecosystems.

“When we talk about entrepreneurship, we’re not just talking about starting up businesses,” said Jamie Bright, the Rural Prosperity Nebraska Extension educator leading this year’s conference. “In the community development arena, we’re all entrepreneurs in that we’re all seeking out innovative ways to help our communities thrive. That’s what this conference is about—collaborating with like-minded individuals to help our communities prosper.”  

To highlight the innovative ways communities bring prosperity to their residents, the conference will use the “walking conference” format. Unlike traditional conferences, where attendees move room to room in a conference center, this one will hold each of its nearly 30 sessions in different, locally-owned businesses. 

This year in Sidney, businesses include a cheese shop, a home décor store, and a bank, among others. Attendees walk from business to business, not only seeing the hosting city between sessions, but experiencing first-hand the entrepreneurial ideas and practices that make the local environment thrive for businesses and residents alike.

“Sidney has an abundance of unique businesses and locations to host this un-conference style conference,” said Alisha Juelfs, the entrepreneurial navigator for E3 Energizing Entrepreneurial Ecosystems in Cheyenne County and coordinator for bringing the conference to Sidney.  “All the communities in Cheyenne County, have demonstrated resilience over the last several years. Hosting the event provides the opportunity for those stories to be shared and experienced.”

Topics for this year’s sessions include workforce development, grant writing, investment cooperatives, entrepreneurial enhancement, planning and zoning regulations, youth empowerment, creative arts districts, as well as overviews of programs offered by Rural Prosperity Nebraska Extension educators. Keynote speakers include Juelfs and the Energizing Entrepreneurial Ecosystems team, and Rob Russell, senior program director for University of Missouri Extension.

In addition to formal sessions, Boss City Brewing Co. is hosting a networking reception on the first night of the conference.

“Not only is networking a big plus of attending the conference, but it’s a hallmark of community development,” said Bright. “Networking is how we grow, as individuals, as communities, as a state. This conference is designed to encourage networking and collaboration among the best and brightest in this field. So we all walk away not just knowing more, but being able to do more when we get back to our communities.”

While attendees benefit from the expertise shared by presenters, local businesses benefit as well. In addition to the revenue the gain from conference attendees, businesses also participate in the networking that occurs by talking with other small-business owners, sharing successful business practices, and contributing to Nebraska’s entrepreneurial ecosystem that the conference aims to promote. 

Juelfs said, “We’re excited to showcase the passion and grit among community organizations and small business owners who have demonstrated a commitment of growing and supporting their community, and sharing stories to express the importance of a strong network.”

Registration costs $175 per person, but group rates are available. Session schedules and additional information is available on the conference website

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