A couple of weeks ago Melissa Schwan, from Vinton Unlimited, and I wrote a story and helped the students of the Vinton Popcorn Company create a video to help tell their story. The story has been published in this week’s Iowa’s Creative Corridor Digest as the “Big Story”! Watch the video and read the story below!
The story of Vinton Popcorn is one that details a great deal of community history, mentorship, commitment and creative minds that have led to today’s success.
Vinton Popcorn was started in the 1940s and was sold several times before the end of operation in 1998. Although there were several different owners there were some things that remained consistent: the name Vinton Popcorn; and the reputation of this widely known, tasty treat. Vinton Popcorn was responsible for a number of jobs in the community as well as feeding many Americans a high-quality product that garnered attention from numerous news outlets throughout its years of operation.
It was not until 2011 that several community leaders and the Vinton-Shellsburg School District came together to bring this community staple back to life. It was decided Vinton Popcorn would live on as a project for local students involved in the entrepreneurship course at the Vinton-Shellsburg High School. The beauty of this partnership is the recognition of the strengths of the student body and the ability to transform aspects of our current educational model to focus on hands-on, project-based learning.
The unique advantage of this project is that Vinton Popcorn is completely run by the students. The students are responsible for the accounting, marketing, production, sales, and administration of the company. Having a completely student-run business comes with its challenges and opportunities. One of the most evident challenges is the cycle of human resources the company goes through. There is constant transition with each new trimester and work to get new students acquainted with the company, its practices, and its product. With this challenge, opportunity is quick to follow. Each new student that comes into the company has a different perspective and is another creative mind. These creative minds work together to provide top-quality service and new products. Most recently, the company had a yearning to provide a new variety to their customers. After a community and client survey, they decided to start production of caramel-flavored popcorn. This product hit the shelf in January 2016 and is now their top-selling product.
The enhancement and development of the participating students’ 21st Century skills is undeniable. Each day these students are faced with a number of issues or obstacles they must tackle with their team. They have gained experience managing and facilitating tough conversations with their peers, vendors, board members and clients. They have also gained the knowledge of the many steps it takes to have a compliant business and product, including navigating FDA regulations.
The hard work and dedication of these students does not go unnoticed. The Vinton Popcorn Board, which is entirely made up of business and community leaders, serves as a source of input and an outlet for the students to remain engaged within the community as well as other communities throughout the state. Recently, the board members made the decision to recognize one valuable student employee each year. This has resulted in a small cash award given to a graduating senior on their annual Senior Awards Night. This is a small token for this student to truly understand the direct value they had on the future of the company.
To order your Vinton Popcorn, please visit www.vintonpopcornproject.com.
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Available housing that is both adequate and affordable for all different income levels, directly influences population growth. For many years, Benton County has suffered from an aging population. Historical statistics will show some communities have remained stagnant in their population and other have experienced rapid growth, however, Benton County as a whole has lost population in both 2014 and 2015. This specific statistic is very alarming for both community leaders, leaders in our local school districts, our current downtown and industrial markets, our citizens, our region, etc.
When we assess this stat, as well as consider where people are migrating to, we find there is seems to be a lack of adequate housing available in some of our communities.
Why is this important? Many residents and community leaders recognize housing as an issue, but have different reasons it is an issue, including quality of life, quality/availability of services, etc. While all of these issues are very important, today, we are going to highlight two of the reason why it is important for economic development:
- As we all understand, our services are made available by the taxes our citizens pay. As our infrastructure continues to age and services continue to become more expensive, taxes will continue to rise. In order to help minimize the burden to these expenses, housing development and rehabilitation is an important issue to spread this among more tax paying citizens.
- Housing and expanding our industry base is a revolving cycle. At this time, businesses are forced to locate where they have an available workforce to fill their needs. In order to prove there is an available, growing workforce, we must have a growing population.
Several communities in Benton County are considering this issue and how we can overcome this this struggle by developing new housing area, housing rehabilitation projects, affordable housing units, etc. Benton Development Group assists in connecting communities to resource partners like the USDA, ECICOG, Iowa Finance Authority, etc.
Economic Development Week will be celebrated in Benton County and Iowa’s Creative Corridor May 8th – May 14th. Economic development happens year round in our communities, mostly behind the scenes. This will be a week dedicated to building awareness for the work of economic developers and the opportunities that are created through the work of community leaders and volunteers that contribute to greater economic development. The week will be highlighted by a social media campaign by using #CorridorEDWeek to be shared on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin accounts for economic development professionals and organizations throughout Iowa’s Creative Corridor.
Economic development outcomes are vital to our community’s success. “Economic development is the engine that drives community viability. As a business owner, I am most attracted to a community that consistently demonstrates the willingness to invest in itself,” recognizes President and CEO of Ideal Industries, Patrick Lyons. The Benton County Board of Supervisors have continued to show support and invest in economic development for the betterment of Benton County. Most recently, the Board of Supervisors showed their support by signing a resolution which commends the work of economic development organizations throughout the county (Benton Development Group, Vinton Unlimited and Belle Plaine Community Development) and in Iowa’s Creative Corridor, as well as recognizing May 8th-May 14th as Economic Development Week in Benton County.
Economic developers are charged with generating economic growth, creating better jobs for residents and facilitating an improved quality of life.“Generally speaking, developing anything energizes the community. New parks, trails, and public services are great investments in our community. Combine that with a growing business base and the jobs and services that those businesses offer and you have a thriving community. Economic development is important because it promotes these things and moves the community forward” In order to continue growing our thriving community that Mr. Guenther speaks about, Benton Development Group has established four priorities for the years to come: businesses expansion & retention, housing, workforce development, and entrepreneurial development.
In addition to following the conversation on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin, please visit our blog on our website (www.bdgia.com/blog) to learn how each of our priorities will provide lasting results in our communities, in Iowa’s Creative Corridor and the State of Iowa. Additional organizations to follow in Iowa’s Creative Corridor include: the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, Iowa City Area Development Group (ICAD), Jones County Economic Development Group, Marion Economic Development Corporation (MEDCO), Washington Economic Development Group (WEDG).
National Small Business Week is a movement happening in every state throughout the county that is recognizing the idea of “Dream Big, Start Small”. Benton County is joining the movement by celebrating the entrepreneurship, risk-taking, diversity, and innovation that is taking place in our community that makes contributions to our local, state and national prosperity. Small businesses are a vital piece to the engine that keeps our Benton County moving forward. Each of these small businesses started with an idea and a passion for a product or service by an entrepreneur who morphed that passion into a vision. They turned that vision into a lifelong goal of creating a career for themselves, their family and their community.
As our economy continues to blossom, it is important for all to remember that small businesses are the backbone of our local success. Our small businesses include: our clinics, care centers and hospital who provide care; manufacturing organizations producing products for our global economy; our eCommerce and customer care organizations who provide the highest quality services globally; our personal care service professionals who assure we look and feel great; our restaurants and grocery stores who help feed world; and this is just to name a few. It is our local entrepreneurs who continually assess and consider how they bring their vision to life, how to create opportunities for our community, how to create new jobs. Each small business owner is faced with changes that create both challenges and opportunities. Each business owner face business owner faces these challenges by taking risk and making investments. With the advancement in technology, our small business owners are forced to think, market and provide globally.
We will utilize this week to build awareness around the value small businesses provide to our community. We challenge all to: remember that we have a strong local and state economy because of our entrepreneurs, employee and customers who have shown dedication and loyalty to our small businesses; remember why our small businesses exist; and remember why you choose to support a small business.
Every year since 1963, the President of the United States has issued a proclamation announcing National Small Business Week, which recognizes the critical contributions of America’s entrepreneurs and small business owners.
More than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, and they create about two out of every three new jobs in the U.S. each year.
As part of National Small Business Week, the U.S. Small Business Administration takes the opportunity to highlight the impact of outstanding entrepreneurs, small business owners, and others from all 50 states and U.S. territories. Every day, they’re working to grow small businesses, create 21st century jobs, drive innovation, and increase America’s global competitiveness.
Benton Development Group is constantly looking for new ways to serve as a resource to our local businesses and communities. With the recent release of the Benton County Laborshed Analysis and the ever tightening labor pool, we have decided to make a change to our website.
The results of the study show that over 70% of our Laborshed area is turning to the internet to search for job openings. We are surprised by this result, but we did want to consider a way of how we can pick up some of that traffic. Last Thursday, during a presentation of the Laborshed data with many local leaders, BDG announced that we have added a feature to our website where all Benton County businesses have the opportunity to post their job openings. This is a free service to all Benton County employers and each posting will expire after 30 days. We feel that with our tight talent pool and many additional jobs being created, this is a great opportunity for BDG to assist our local businesses in finding their next employee by pushing these opportunities out on more platforms.
While we are very excited to provide this tool for our businesses, we are also excited to provide this for our local communities. We understand that we have many commuters in our area, but we feel that if we can communicate local opportunities, we may be able to capture a part o the commuter population to work locally.
To either post a job or search for a new career, please visit our webpage at www.bdgia.com. You will find the pages to both post your openings or find local openings under the Resources tab. If you have any trouble navigating or posting on the site, please do not hesitate to let Emily at the BDG office know.
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.
ARE YOU READY TO TAKE ACTION?!