Local organizations collaborate with the SBDC to create opportunities for small businesses

Benton Development Group, Vinton Unlimited and Belle Plaine Community Development have partnered with the Small Business Development Center to bring a series of engaging educational opportunities to Benton County for our small business community.  The series will be made up of 9 sessions that focus on getting, keeping and growing customer bases.  “One of the most exciting elements of this project is that all of the sessions will be very interactive.  The ultimate goal of this program is to give leaders the tools they need to take action in their business, that is why we decided to call this the Action Academy.” said Emily Upah, Benton Development Group. Along with the series being very interactive, we also look for the series to be very high energy to help motivate our businesses to take action. “We can promise this won’t be a boring lecture series” states Melissa Schwan, Vinton Unlimited.
The big picture of the series is to provide different entrepreneurship perspectives to our local small business community.  Here in Vinton we’ve been talking with some of our local businesses and some common themes have emerged regarding their small businesses stated  Schwan. “Those common themes gave us a starting point and helped the SBDC prepare the series that best targets our needs.” The series will be based around the ideas of getting, keeping and growing customer bases by engaging in educational experiences.  When we break that down, we will really give our businesses the appropriate tools to think about their value proposition, who their key customers are, how their customers want to receive their services, what sets you apart from your competition, etc.  
The Small Business Development Center has really helped us narrow our ideas and put together a series that has greatly exceeded our expectations.  With their connections, the speakers coming to our local events have deep roots in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.  Their experiences range from leadership coaching, marketing gurus, customer experts, Iowa Venture School graduates, and much more.  The SBDC is also taking this on as somewhat of a pilot project which they hope to offer in Marion and other communities throughout their service territory.  
The Action Academy is open to all businesses in Benton County and free for those who attend.  Our kick off session is on February 16th from 5:30pm to 7:00pm at the Van Horne Community Center.  The remainder of the sessions will be held twice a month from 7:30am-8:30am, rotating between Belle Plaine and Vinton.  “We feel there is so much value in bring our business communities together for these events in order collaborate, learn from different business climates and experiences and to build an open network.” said Upah.  
Please visit the calendars on the Benton Development Group and Vinton Unlimted websites for dates and locations.  Feel free to contact the BDG, VU or BPCDC offices for more information regarding the Action Academy.  


BDG to elect officers and set 2016 action priorities

Benton Development Group will hold their monthly Board of Directors meeting on January 27th at 7:00pm at the Van Horne Community Center and you are encouraged to attend.


During this gathering, members will hold an election of officers for President, Vice-President, Treasurer and Secretary. Each officer is elected for one calendar year.


Those in attendance will also be setting action priorities for 2016. Our vision is to create BDG action priorities with feedback from our communities to ensure our priorities fall in line with community initiatives. These priorities are ones that we will be able to make direct action and continue the progress in 2016. BDG executive director, Emily Upah, will also update members and attendees of projects that she has been working on over the past month, including: business development, small business development programs, workforce topics, etc.


Benton Development Group meetings are open to the public and community input is highly encouraged at each meeting. If you or someone you know is interested in being a leader and spokesperson for your community or has a general interest in economic development, please attend the meeting on the 27th or connect with Emily at the BDG office.

2015 – BDG Looks Back on a Successful Year


As we reflect on 2015, Benton Development Group is able to reminisce on the progress and preparation for future growth that has been established this past year. As our group continues to grow and assist our communities and businesses in unique ways, we find each project has its own set of trials and tribulations. In 2015, we were able to use our strategic partnerships and dedication to our businesses to tackle issues head on to ensure success for our communities, businesses and our organization.


Benton County experienced many milestones in 2015 that BDG was excited to be a part of. In total, Benton County saw approximately $22 million in new capital investment with approximately 180 jobs created over 18 months. The numbers are impressive, but all of this credit goes to those businesses that made these expansions happen. BDG was and is standing ready to assist those companies to assure the success on all fronts. Some ways that we played a role include connections to Kirkwood training programs, Iowa Department of Transportation resources, the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) services, Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) grants and financing, Iowa State University resources, etc.


BDG and officials from Kirkwood Community College’s Benton County Center and Workplace Learning Connection came together to bring a new level of collaboration between our groups to create opportunities for our students, our educators and our businesses. Together, we found new ways to work with our local school districts in an effort to address the talent shortage that is being felt by our local, regional and state industries. While we cannot solve this issue on a local level only, it is our hope to bring awareness to our students that many opportunities lie within our local communities and educate our students on the 21st century skills our current industries are struggling to find. Our big success in 2015 on the workforce front, was an BDG internship that came from these collaborative conversations. Three students, one from each Benton Community, Belle Plaine and Vinton-Shellsburg, participated in surveys with our local industries from around the county. Each student gained further knowledge on communication, problem solving, time management, etc. To learn more about their experience, please view the video the students created by visiting YouTube.com and searching, “BDG Summer Internship 2015”.


In June, BDG hosted a visit with the IEDA Director, Debi Durham. During her visit, Director Durham was given a comprehensive tour of Benton County where she was able to visit Atkins, Van Horne and Wallace Farms. Director Durham also visited Clickstop, where CEO, Tim Guenther, announced the company’s $6 million, 100 job expansion. BDG also hosted a luncheon at the Van Horne Community Center that was attended by approximately 80 business and community leaders. These attendees were able to gain insight to the programs the state is working on and how the programs and activities of BDG fit into those state initiatives. Director Durham left with these words, “ We need to be prepared with housing, commercial buildings, utilities capacity & connectivity to become the site of choice for new businesses to locate in our community or for current businesses to expand. If we build capacity on all fronts, they will come.”


While BDG has been involved in many great activities this past year, something that we cannot neglect is the role our partnerships organizations have played in these events. The Benton County Supervisors have provided great support for BDG activities and continue to work with our organization to assure community and business needs are met. The Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance team has provided great assistance and collaboration on business expansions projects and organizational goals. We continue to work with the Small Business Development Center and Iowa’s Creative Corridor to bring new programming and awareness to Benton County businesses and communities.


We have had an exciting year, but we do not plan on slowing down in 2016. We are planning programs with the SBDC to provide workshop opportunities in Benton County to address small business needs. We will be embarking on a top executive roundtable group to give top executives in our communities the opportunity to network and learn from other industry leaders with and educational piece on different business practices and resources. Also in early 2016, we have several events planned to give our local industry the opportunity to speak with our local students and educators to have a direct impact on students and the implementation of 21st century skills in our current curriculums.


We will have a busy and exciting 2016. To assure we are meeting all needs, we want your input at our monthly board meetings. Our first meeting of the new year will be January 27th at 7:00pm at the Van Horne Community Center. This meeting will be our kickoff to the new year with Executive Board elections and setting the stage for the year to come. Our meetings are open to the public and community input is encouraged. If you have any questions regarding board involvement or activities, please never hesitate to contact Emily at the BDG office at (319) 472-5545 or info@bdgia.com.


Thank you to all of our community and business leaders for your support in 2015 and continued support in 2016. We plan to make it a year full of growth and prosperity for Benton County!

SBA Boots 2 Business

Are you a Veteran, in the National Guard or Reservist? Are you also interested in starting your own business?!  If you answered YES to BOTH of those questions, the Small Business Administration has an upcoming education and training program for YOU.

During this one day, three part program takes place on Monday, October 26th, 2015 from 8:30am to 5:30pm at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center. You will learn about the entrepreneurship track, foundations of entrepreneurship, etc.!  You will also learn about SBA collaborators who are able to assist with your business!

Click HERE to learn more about the program.

WE are Iowa’s Creative Corridor

“Iowa’s Creative Corridor is home to a half million creative residents and covers 4400 square miles in eastern Iowa including Benton, Cedar, Iowa, Johnson, Jones, Linn and Washington counties.

It is a shared identity that represents the people, places and ideals of the 7-county region which encompasses the entire Kirkwood Community College service area. It represents the pride and actions that make our region prosperous and vibrant. It pays homage to our region’s historical strengths in art, science and technology, and captures our aspirations for an even more collaborative, innovative and imaginative region.

Everyone in the region is welcome and encouraged to use this shared identity proudly in community, corporate and non-profit communications. It’s a way to show what we all work together to strengthen and celebrate this place that we love.”


The above information is taken right from the Iowa’s Creative Corridor (www.creativecorridor.co) website.  How many people actually knew Benton County was part of Iowa’s Creative Corridor? or maybe thought Iowa’s Creative Corridor was just the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Corridor?  It is much broader than that; but to make our mark, we can’t be humble! It is our effort moving forward to push our unique stories and our local events to the Creative Corridor.

In this effort we need YOUR help:

1.) when you hear of a unique business or community story, let BDG know.  We will do our research and push the information.

2.) The BDG calendar serves as a tool to push local events to the Creative Corridor calendar of events.  We need your help by posting your community event on the BDG calendar.  Let’s show people what a great place Benton County is to live, work, shop and play.

Here is the first of many stories to be published on the site.  Thanks Jim Morrison for running it in the Vinton Newspapers.

If you haven’t done so already, please take 30 seconds and subscribe to the Digest.  This is a weekly blast that shows the upcoming events and featured stories for the week!