Western Nebraska Community College officially opened its newly created Innovation & Entrepreneurship (I & E) Center Wednesday on the Sidney Campus with a ribbon cutting.
The I & E Center was formed in response to the hundreds of displaced workers in the southern Panhandle over the last few years, and is meant to help entrepreneurs start new businesses in the area. The new renovated facility on the WNCC Sidney Campus is housed in the former Cosmetology program space.
"People were just flooding out of our area," said WNCC Sidney Campus Executive Director Paula Abbott. "While companies were downsizing and creating displaced workers by the hundreds, we desperately wanted to find a way to keep them here. As we talked, we had this vision that there were going to be entrepreneurs, and they were going to flow into the college, and they were all going to use these resources, and they were all going to want to stay here. And, you know what? We were right."
Currently, the I & E Center houses three businesses - Karuna Counseling, Nexgen Outfitters, and Shoemaker Law L.L.C. The three Sidney start-up businesses, which are nearly all former displaced employees, have each launched new careers that will bring new business and new life to the Sidney economic scene. Approved applicants to the I & E Center receive two years of free rent and utilities, and a wide range of business resources.
In return, these start-up businesses agree to transition to a new or existing brick and mortar store front in the community.
"When you look at American community colleges across this country, their response is always to their community," said WNCC President Dr. Todd Holcomb. "The community of Sidney and the southern Panhandle needed a response. The southern Panhandle has been a great partner to our college, so it has been easy to respond to that call of help when you have great partners."
"Being one of the few to step up and say I'm going to do something about this is really an outstanding act of citizenship and where you can see there is community in this community," said Nexgen Outfitters CEO Trent Santero.
Additionally, the WNCC Sidney Campus has hosted a number of business resource meetings throughout the Panhandle to introduce small business owners to the resources available in the area. Hundreds of people have attended these meetings over the last year, including current I & E Center tenant Nichole Peralta with Karuna Counseling. Peralta opened her own mental health private practice when Panhandle Health Group closed last year.
"I didn't go to school to be a business manager," Peralta said. "I know nothing about running a business. So, being able to come in here and get the resources from Paula (Abbott) and everyone else was instrumental in getting my start-up running."
Beyond the offices designated for the current businesses in the space, the I & E Center also includes a variety of conference rooms, one individual telephone booth, and an open co-working space for community members to gather. The I & E Center was recognized earlier this year when the WNCC Sidney Campus received the Community Impact Award during the Cheyenne County Chamber of Commerce banquet.
"It's been so much more than I could have ever imagined," said Jeff Shoemaker of Shoemaker Law L.L.C. "You get to be a part of the solution; you get to be part of the Sidney solution. There are jobs being created here and we're doing it with our own people. There is probably nothing better than that. We're doing it with our own people and resources that are offered here. Thank you to Western Nebraska Community College, as this has proven to be a huge success starting out and I'm excited to see what's next."
For more information on the I & E Center or if you'd like to attend the next business resource meeting, please contact Abbott at email@example.com.