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Director’s Dialogue: Courageous Conversations

By Erik Pedersen | Apr 23, 2014

I crossed through about 3 different weather patterns as I drove from Wichita to Goodland on April 13th, each pattern getting colder, windier, and snowier; and I complained (to myself and the windshield) all the way. I had been invited to participate in a meeting with some passionate Goodland community leaders addressing the issue of business transition. As the snow pelted my windshield, it was easy to wish I were warm at home instead, but once I arrived, I was glad I had braved the snowy drive to join this courageous and forward-thinking group. The team included Michael Solomon (Sherman County Economic Development Director), the mayor, as well as a local banker, attorney, entrepreneur and business teachers from Northwest Kansas Technical College. This group had identified some businesses in Sherman County that were potentially ready to retire or transition in the next 2 to 5 years and the purpose of this meeting was to make sure those businesses had the tools to be able to move forward and have a successful transition.

We spent 2 hours discussing the challenges facing a rural community when some of the established businesses may be nearing a transition stage. Can the community proactively work with the owners to answer such questions as: how many years would they like to be in business before they retire and/or sell the business, do they know what it would take for them to be able to retire and walk away and leave an operating business that has given them the opportunity to retire, how best to finance the next step and most importantly, where can that pool of potential entrepreneurs be found who may want to take over the business.

 What I found most interesting, and weirdly encouraging, was that it started as a specific discussion about "immediate next steps" but transitioned into the realization that for this to be successful in Goodland (and maybe any other community), it had to organically grow and that this meeting was just the first of many.

I applaud these Goodland community members, as well as others across the state having the same discussions. It's not an easy topic to address, it has many challenges, but if we don't have the courageous conversations now, we'll never make progress. Thank you Michael and the others for inviting me to be a part of that evening.