Public relations and negotiations for rural development grant

NPS Interview:

2012 Governor’s Conference on Rural Development –

DIY: Do It Yourself  Panelists will share how their communities partnered locally to fill needs for a retail store and a grocery/convenience store.  The Cooperative Development Center will share information about the productive ways to engage in cooperative activities.
Bill Minnick, Cambridge
     Annie Cheney, Cody-Kilgore School
     Jim Crandall, UNL Cooperative Development Center


2012 K-State Rural Grocery Initiative Conference/Summit

Circle C Market represented at K-State rural grocery gathering
July 2012

MANHATTAN, KS – The Cody Circle C Market was represented at the Rural Grocery Initiative (RGI) conference last Tuesday at Kansas State University. k-State invited the Circle C Market to present about the project in Manhattan, calling the future grocery store and business incubator a “model of [grocery] operation”.

The Circle C Market wasn’t the only school-based grocery store invited to present at the RGI conference, however. 2012 Cody-Kilgore graduate Anlan Cheney, who presented the project at K-State, said she was joined by two other school-based grocery stores when she presented about the Circle C Market. A group with The Bulldog Express of Leeton, Missouri, and superintendent Warren Schmidt of Rothsay, Minnesota, also shared about their projects.

“We’re often cited as a really unique and one-of-a-kind project,” said Cheney who is also a former GRIT member and has worked on the Cowboy GRIT committee and Circle C market project since its beginnings, “it was eye opening to see that there are other schools doing the same thing!”

Cheney’s presentation, entitled “Cody Circle C Market: Bringing groceries to a Food Desert”, detailed the preparation for and development of the student-run, non-profit grocery store and student entrepreneurial center.

K-State’s Rural Grocery Initiative (RGI) was founded in response to the struggle of rural grocery stores. “Unfortunately, we to frequently hear of yet another rural grocery store shutting its doors and closing for busi ness,” said a RGI pamphlet about its cause. The RGI is supported by a USDA Rural Business Opportunity Grant and funding from Kansas State University.

The RGI claims that “rural grocery stores…represent a critical piece of infrastructure that keeps our rural communities alive”. According to RGI, rural grocery stores are often the “only source of healthful, affordable food…a primary local economic driver….[and] a symbol of a healthy, vibrant community.”

The Circle C Market, besides making groceries accessible to a rural community, will hopefully further stimulate the local economy and entrepreneurial spirit in the area. Indeed, the Circle C Market is near to becoming a reality. While Cheney was in Manhattan presenting the project to a gathering of rural grocers, construction workers and volunteers were hard at work in Cody putting a frame on the Circle C Market founda tion. The store and student entrepreneurial center are expected to open this fall.

Worth the Wait, Cody breaks groundon grocery store
May 2012

Cody-Kilgore community members welcomed the long-awaited groundbreaking of their future student-run grocery store and business incubator in Cody last Monday, April 23rd. The store, now named the “Circle C Market”, will be a 3,000 square foot straw-bale building. The Circle C Market is expected to open this fall on its Highway 20 location.

“It’s been a long process”, said C-K educator and community member Tracee Ford of preparing the grocery store project for construction, citing location challenges and meeting grant-related requirements as a cause for the long wait. Ford is also a member of Cowboy GRIT, an advisory committee that helped to develop the grocery store project from its conception in 2009. Both Ford and fellow GRIT member/C-K educator Stacey Adamson served on the Public Relations Committee at Cody-Kilgore High School, brainstorming ideas on how to bring more students to the C-K communities. “That’s when someone said, ‘Well let’s build a grocery store’”, remembered Adamson. “We all treated it like a joke, then I thought, ‘Why not?’”

Adamson made a call to Arthur County’s “The Wolf Den Market”, a small community grocery store, eventually speaking with The Center for Rural Affairs. Only days later, Adamson and Ford found themselves scrambling to procure materials for a $75,000 rural development grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Cody-Kilgore was awarded the grant to “finance and facilitate development…[of an] emerging rural business”. The Village of Cody then received another USDA grant in 2010 for $95,000 to fund the Circle C Market and business incubator building, specifically.

Adamson and Ford invited students to join the grant Steering Committee—now called an advisory committee—in 2010. Ten students were interviewed and accepted into the Committee, though the membership increased to eleven in the 2011-2012 school year. Student members decided to name the committee Cowboy GRIT (Growing, Revitalizing, Investing, Teamwork) in 2010 were instrumental in naming the store the Circle C Market (after a local celebration called Circle C) in 2012. Indeed, students have been involved in all aspects of the grocery store and business incubator project, including the business plan, building layout, and startup inventory.

“This project is about the students…It’s a promise to them,” said Village of Cody Board Chairmen John Johnson at Monday’s groundbreaking. In a small community where fewer opportunities exist for young people, especially those wanting to return after college, economic revitalization is key. The project will also cut the traveling distance residents must make for groceries by a significant margin and provide entrepreneurial support for the local economy.

USDA representative Paul Bartlett, who was present at Monday’s groundbreaking, was quick to praise the project for a number of those reasons. “There are a lot of struggling small towns who can learn from this project,” he said, emphasizing the unique student, staff, and Village Board’s collaborative partnership.

It’s true that good things come to those who wait. With a promising new business and an economic revitalization movement underway, prosperity for Cody-Kilgore is on the horizon. Some things are just worth waiting for.


Anlan Cheney


Grocery store might help town to survive
March 2011

After their meeting with Nebraska Game and Parks in Lincoln on Monday, February 28th, members of the Cowboy G.R.I.T. committee discussed the visit and their project with a Lincoln Journal Star reporter. The following article, reprinted with permission, appeared in the March 1st issue of the Star.

Cody calls itself a town too tough to die. But you’ve got to eat to survive. That’s why students from Cody-Kilgore Unified Schools want to build a grocery store in their community of 149 people west of Valentine. Over the weekend, five junior high and high school students from the school traveled 340 miles from the Sandhills to Lincoln, where they made a unique business pitch involving a little piece of the state’s longest recreational trail.

The students, joined by local community and business leaders, want to lease a small plot of land in the Cowboy Trail right-of-way to build a store. The building would double as an entrepreneurship incubator, which the students hope would spin off other new businesses in a place where employment opportunities are on the decline.

“It’s important because we need these things for people who want to come here and want to stay,” said Kylee Stoner, a Cody-Kilgore eighth-grader.

The students made their pitch Monday at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, which owns the Cowboy Recreation and Nature Trail.

The trail follows a 321-mile former railroad corridor between Norfolk and Chadron, although the section open to hikers, bikers and equestrians encompasses nearly 200 miles from Norfolk to Valentine.

Details need to be worked out and the proposal must be approved by Game and Parks commissioners, but the idea has merit, said Roger Kuhn, the agency’s parks administrator. “I think it’s a positive thing,” he said Monday. “We try to do what we can to support the communities, because when communities are successful, we’re successful.”

The concept is the product of a local nonprofit group called Cowboy GRIT, an acronym for Growing, Revitalizing, Investing and Teaching. The group’s members include business owners, community leaders and students. Cowboy GRIT got a $75,000 federal stimulus grant to remodel a vacant business in Cody for the new grocery store. But after the group couldn’t find the perfect building, it came up with the plan to build from scratch and won another $95,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Both grants require a dollar-for-dollar match, which group leaders say they’ll get through contributions and in-kind donations of labor and professional services, said John Johnso, chairman of the Cody Village Board.

They would like to build a 3,000-square-foot building, which would be accessible to travelers on U.S. 20, Johnson said. The closest full-service grocery store to Cody is about 40 miles east in Valentine. Cody lost its grocery about 10 years ago.

Despite its diminutive size, Cody has a long history of trying to fight the tide of population loss and economic decline. This effort is different because it involves future leaders. “If we want this to happen, we have to get creative,” Johnson said. “This is about our youth.” Annie Cheney, a junior, and Jais Ford, a senior, said students put together a business plan that calls for hiring a full-time store manager, but much of the work would be done by community volunteers or students participating in work-study.

In rural Cherry County, there aren’t a lot of opportunities for teenagers to get part-time jobs other than as ranch hands, Cheney said. The store project also could give students on-the-job experience with management, scheduling and accounting.

“I’m so excited about it because it benefits our school,” said Wyatt Schneider, an eighth-grader.

Students, staff and residents are proud of the 126-student K-12 school system and want to keep it strong, said J.T. Adamson, a seventh-grader. Providing the goods and services that keep families in the district and attract new ones is one of the best ways to achieve that goal. “Our school offers a lot,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine going anywhere else.”


BY JOE DUGGAN Lincoln Journal Star

Cowboy GRIT Teams Up with SIFE of Kearney
Nov. 2010

Originally penned as Growing, Revitalizing, Investing, and Teamwork, the Cowboy GRIT Steering Committee has made considerable progress in the past month through which they hope to add the finishing touches on plans for their student-run grocery store and student entrepreneurship center in Cody, NE.

Growing included the Cowboy GRIT committee adding four new members. Tessa Gale, Tyler O’Neill and Austin Wobig, all freshmen at Cody-Kilgore, and Seventh Grader J.T. Adamson, have brought fresh ideas to the table and have already contributed to the grocery store and business incubator project. As with the original GRIT members, these students filled out applications and were interviewed by judges.

Even with growth every project needs some revitalization at some point. This renewal came in the form of two well-planned and smoothly executed fundraising events that benefited the grocery store and business incubator project. A jackpot team roping organized by J.T. Adamson and Austin Wobig, and a concert featuring the nationally acclaimed “Sweethearts in Carharts,” organized by Marty and Donna Blocker, earned $1500 for the incubator project.

Initiative couldn’t have come any handier when the GRIT committee finally set their sights on a prize piece of land directly next to highway 20, which runs straight through the little town of Cody. Scott Millard, the grocery store consultant, believed the lot north of Lancaster to be the ideal location. Cowboy GRIT set out to persuade Nebraska Game and Parks to sell them the esteemed portion of land in question.

Primarily, Cowboy GRIT was given a decisive “No” to their perhaps outside chance request. With a little prayer and perfectly placed political pressure, however, the Committee was notified from Washington D.C. only two weeks ago that the land was theirs to use with an extended lease. “I’m thanking God right now,” shared Cowboy GRIT leader Stacey Adamson, who also teaches Elementary and Junior High Math, “It was a long shot, but He provided!”

Postponed by the impending situation with land, Cowboy GRIT has officially declared their intentions to start building in the spring. Meanwhile, the Committee has teamed up with a SIFE (Students In Free Enterprise) group out of the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK).

Made up of business-minded college students and sponsored by the Dean of the UNK Business College, Shawn Kaskie, the group, which promotes itself with the slogan, “Head for business, heart for World,” has stated its main aim is to empower the Cowboy GRIT Steering Committee through the resources and assistance it can provide.

Already, connections have been made between the Kearney SIFE group and another on-campus organization that will aid in developing a floor plan for the grocery store. SIFE will also be meeting with the student members of the Steering Committee to impart customized business-oriented lessons on entrepreneurship, CO-Ops, marketing strategies, and the like.

UNK’s SIFE, a part of a national organization, has selected the Cody Grocery Store and Business Incubator project as their own to develop for their contest in the spring. The team is looking at it as a long term project, as UNK SIFE Student Chairman Kasey Dietz remarked, “We are hoping to be around for a while.” The Lopers and Cowboys may have more in common than you might think.

Between Growing, Revitalizing, Initiating, and Teamwork, the Cowboy G.R.I.T. committee has plenty of room for success. The past month has proven to be a busy and exciting one for the Cody Grocery Store and Business Incubator project, but will doubtless expand and explode in the coming seasons into a full-fledged economic overhaul. Lucky for the Village of Cody, with a little thanks due to its “too tough to die” mentality and more to the UNK SIFE team and other helpful individuals, kids and families will eventually be able to come home to a budding community. The best part? They won’t have to lug their groceries from an hour away.


Anlan Cheney


Long Wait Worth the C-K Grocery Store Building
Sept. 2010

Students at Cody-Kilgore were just settling down into their school routine on August 31, 2010, when big news hit. Cody-Kilgore, currently in the midst of a Rural Business Enterprise Grant program, were notified of their selection as one in 61 projects to be awarded funds for further “Student Education and Economic Development in the Sandhills.”

Many will remember the funding for a business incubator received by Cody-Kilgore Unified Schools last year. The new subsidy, which was awarded to the Village of Cody by the USDA (United states Department of Agriculture) and the Center for Rural Affairs, will provide the building to purpose the entrepreneurship and area-building activities form the first grant.

John Johnson, a Cody community member who helped to write the building Grant, hopes to have the straw-bale building up by first snow. Both John and his brother, George, serve on the Cody Village Board and have been proactive with the ‘business incubator’ project. George, who built his own straw-bale building for his vinegary, pointed out the benefits of such a structure: “They are extremely efficient with very low energy costs….stable temperatures and the quiet make them nice to work in.”

Obstacles still stand in the way ofa building, however. Straw must first be found for the structure, however. Straw must first be found for the structure, but not just any straw. Approximately 600 wheat straw bales, tied with wire, are ideal. (Anyone with suggestions should call Cody-Kilgore High School at 402-823-4227)

Location also needs to be pinpointed, as previous arrangements did not work out. Community volunteers and the C-K steering committee and sponsors have begun working overtime after a standstill wait for news on the building funds.

“After all of the hard work we’ve put in, I’ll be excited to see the impact this store will have for our community and school,” stated Jais Ford, a CKHS Senior and member of the Steering Committee. “Just think of all the benefits; kids will get REAL business experience and they’ll have the opportunity to start their own business if they want. It’s a win-win situation!”

There’s more to the project, however, as John Johnson will add, “It’s infrastructure. People—they change, they come and go—but a project with an infrastructure offers our community stability.” Groceries may be a gain, but the overall goal of the business incubator is to build up this community. Cody has created a legacy, milk and eggs included.


Anlan Cheney


C-K Steering Committee Learns to Lead at Governor’s Conference
Nov. 20

Lead through Innovation. This was the advice of Terry Jones as he addressed around a hundred Nebraskan businesspersons at Governor Dave Heineman’s Rural Development Conference in Kearney on Friday, November 6th. Jones was the founder of Travelocity, the first online travel agent service. The C-K adults and students that attended the conference learned not only how to implement numerous helpful business strategies into the recent acquisition of a federal grant. Unfortunately, Governor Heineman was detained for business in Lincoln, but the C-K attendees received instruction on such business staples as websites, investing, and involving the community nonetheless.

Mayor, Randy Schneider, and Village of Cody board member, Molly Gale, attended the conference along with CKUS principal Kate Fullerton. Stacey Adamson and Tracee Ford, teachers at CKHS and the two heading the grocery store grant, also benefited from the venture. Students who made the trip to Kearney were a part of the grants student Steering Committee.

The Steering Committee members included Chelsea Fullerton, Jana Nollette, Nathan Van Winkle, Jais Ford, Karisa Lamle, Lindsay Adamson, Kelli Bowlin, Annie Cheney, Wyatt Schneider, and Kylee Stoner. The group was selected based upon their personal talents that would pertain to working on the grant project. The applicants were required to complete a written essay explaining what they could do for the project and why they wanted to be on the committee. The Eleven, who were the only that applied, were interviewed by non C-K employees from the surrounding community. Interviewees included Mike Burge from Valentine, and George Johnson and Paul Zysset, both from Cody.

“The Governor’s Conference was eye opening, motivational, and educational,” gushed Stacey Adamson. The conference proved to be helpful in other ways as well, as student Jais Ford shared: “[The Conference] helped us to build relationships with other individuals that are addressing the same issues.”

The student steering committee and its sponsors are now working on the business plan for the student run grocery store. They will also be introducing the rest of the C-K student body to entrepreneurship. Even with the absence of the Governor at his very own conference, the C-K group left Kearney with a wealth of new found knowledge and numerous business principles to ponder and practice.

By Anlan Cheney




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