National Cross Agency Partnerships with Entrepreneurs
Dr. Randy Williams
National Cross Agency Partnerships with Entrepreneurs
BACKGROUND: The National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, Board on Agriculture, recently drafted (December, 1996) a strategic plan which calls for greater emphasis on education, information, and technical assistance which assists the food and fiber sector to identify and react to changing consumer demands and preferences. The Board plan also calls for increased opportunity for faculty to more actively engage industry and international counterparts to enhance their roles as mentors and guides for clientele. Further emphasis was placed on cooperation among institutions. NASULGC and the Board on Agriculture, “From Issues to Action”: – Section 5.3 Enhance Rural Entrepreneurship and small business and cooperatives in rural communities. It includes developing graduates that can “create jobs rather than take jobs” and providing continuing education and information to existing and emerging rural businesses to facilitate and sustain them. Faculty in concert with an enlightened learning environment and enhanced curriculum will produce the human capital expertise critical to the success of our agriculture and natural resource industry…under section on Cooperation, tere was the feeling that more cooperation and less duplication is needed, that there should be multi-sector collaboration, and that the LGUs should recognize the opportunity for public-private collaboration in all parts of the agenda.
The Forest Service has long supported alternative business development activities related to the national forests and secondary wood processing. Their strategic agendas as reflected in the “Enhancing Rural America” and “Working Together for Rural America” publications highlight value-added opportunities and other forest-based economic enterprises. Comments from NRCS leadership at a recent RC&D Council National Conference reflect interest in niche market opportunities. Strategic plans for RC&D Councils are very strong in business development actions related to farm and forest. The Rural Development Mission Area offers a host of entrepreneurial related programs ranging from enterprise development grants to business & industry loans to new farmer programs.
The Entrepreneurial Education Foundation and Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, Kauffman Foundation, along with a number of other major non-profit, philanthropic foundations have a strong interest in advancing entrepreneurial opportunities across the United States. They have expressed an interest in working with USDA agencies to enhance and employ entrepreneurial training to increase entrepreneurial activity and success in the agri-related sectors.
The Cooperative Extension System has moved to encourage expanded programming in entrepreneurial development over the past four years. Successful ventures have been initiated under the Communities in Economic Transition Initiative. The new Managing Change in Agricultural Initiative supports expanded efforts in entrepreneurial development to transition farming/ranching operations to the new age economy of no subsidies and global markets.
Most farmers/ranchers have a portfolio of economic enterprises providing both farm and non-farm income flows. These farm-based operators need assistance in achieving best use of farm and family resources to conribute to family income and other objectives. Value-added, new uses, complimentary enterprises, and other non-traditional approaches to income generation from our land resource need the support of a comprehensive business plan and entrepreneurial strategies to secure financing, investment, and enhanced business valuation.
SCOPE OF PROPOSAL
A selected group of states will be invited to participate in a pilot venture for entrepreneurial training and development in natural resource-based industries. States selected will put together entrepreneurial teams to participate in pilot training and provide a forum for technical assistance implementation. Teams would consist of entrepreneurs, Entenstion professionals, NRCS RC&D coordinators and district conservationists, Farm Service Agency professionals, and Rural Development lending professionals. Each team would be facilitated by an Extension marketing, farm management, or business development specialist. Limited resource entrepreneurs would be included.
A national entrepreneurial training center located at Ball State University and supported by the Entrepreneurial Education Foundation’s “FASTTRAC” business development curriculum will provide the training via distance education instruction to downlink sites across the U.S. Lecturers would be nationally renowned instructors in the field of entrepreneurial development. Guest lecturers from successful entrepreneurial activities would work with the faculty trainers to provide “real world insights” for enterprise management. A national advisory group will work with Ball State University and Entrepreneurial Education Foundation to adjust curriculum to a rural ag/forestry audience.
A community-based entrepreneurial education network will be established to provide guidance and facilitation to entrepreneurial training and mentoring at multi-jurisdictinal level. Community education network will be designed to utilize bankers, accountants, attorneys, farm consultants, and others from private sector resources. As the community-based networks grow in experience and successes, it will aid in making agri-development a community effort versus a farm interest effort. Lo resource producers will gain access to the knowledge and insights of the business professionals in the community who serve as instructors and mentors in the network. These professionals will also gain insights into challenges and opportunities of the smaller scale producers in the region.
The instructional sequence would last up to 16 weeks. Each entrepreneur, along with his USDA team, would develop an operational business plan for actual application to an existing or start-up business activity. The one or two outstanding business plans would receive a financial incentive for business plan implementation. One or two of the “best performing” entrepreneurial teams would receive financial support to implement regional/multi-state entrepreneurial training.
Mentoring activities and monitoring of progress of participants would occur over a multi-year period. Program adjustments and mentoring activities would be perfected by on-site observation and other benchmarks established at outset of pilot project.
The national project management team would be composed of producers, educators, and USDA agency technical professionals. The team would guide the development, implementation, and refinement of the national curriculum, instructional methodology, and mentoring processes.
Support would be recruited from major agricultural supply and equipment companies for promotin and endorsement of the entrepreneurial agendas. A nationally recognized group would be recruited to assist in identifying resources and promoting, evaluating, and guiding implementatin of the agri-development program. By engaging major players in the agribusiness arena, the program should gain quick recognition and application.
A national network will be established to provide entrepreneurial training and technical assistance.
Experience would be gained in the utilization of national curricula such as the “FASTTRAC” program which offers both community-based and college-level instruction.
A core of experienced trainers and program facilitators would be deployed to support expanded entrepreneurial activities (including community business professionals).
New, high-tech partners, such as Ball State University, would share resources and knowledge base in expanding entrepreneurial programming.
“EXPERT” assisted business plans would be developed by participating entrepreneurs and teams. The entrepreneurs would be tracked for successful demonstration of impact of education and technical assistance.
The program implementation would engage the concept of “Team USDA”.
A diversity of natural resource-based businesses (ranging from farming to forestry to horticultural to direct marketing) would be evaluated for alternative enterprises related to agricultural-based businesses.
Business plan development would explore non-traditional methods of marketing new, non-traditional products such as amenity resources, conservation practices, nature appreciation, and many other farming systems related processes which have interest to a recreational/tourism-oriented audience. These activities would add value and profitability to sustainable practices related to farming and ranching.
USDA professionals, extension outreach faculty, and land grant researchers would learn business development through team efforts with producers over multi-year timeframe. USDA and CES members of teams would be evaluated on their ability to provide significant profitability and management enhancement to enterprise owners.
Sustainable management/production practices would be a key component of the overall instructional sequence. Concepts such as whole-farming systems would be incorporated as a core strategy. Profit maximization through sustainable management systems rather than production maximization would be the major theme of the project.
Return to Presentation Menu