Deborah Murray
director of the Center for Rural Research/Development, 308.865.8199

The University of Nebraska at Kearney is starting a project to help current and future business people in rural Nebraska better compete in the growing global marketplace.

The UNK College of Business and Technology (CBT) program is called Global Economic Gardening: An Alliance for Business and International Education in Rural Nebraska. Its mission is to teach the region’s K-12, university students and area business people how to successfully buy and sell products and services worldwide.

“Nebraska must grow regional business leaders with an international focus to become a competitive global player,” said Deborah Murray, project director. “This program is designed to change the current paradigm among our younger population and current business people to think about growing global entrepreneurial capacity by seeking global partnerships, acquiring global business knowledge and engaging in global economic growth.”

The region’s young and educated populations are largely leaving the state seeking new opportunities, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, she said. “Increasingly, the region’s entrepreneurs are finding it difficult to become globally competitive. Achieving the necessary critical mass is difficult for business development due to the region’s low population density.”

In the program, that runs August 2007 through June 2009, K-12 students, university students and community members will participate in seminars and workshops that will expose them to cultural etiquette and business practices, global business opportunities and current ethical, social, environmental and technological issues.

During the first year, Murray expects that 200 UNK students, several hundred elementary students, 200 distance learning students and up to 100 business owners and entrepreneurs will participate.

The program is funded by a two-year, $165,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education.  

UNK has partnered with various community groups to attract business people into the program, among the groups involved are the Kearney Chamber of Commerce, the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, the Development Council of Buffalo County, regional economic development directors, and regional and state governmental leaders.

The Global Economic Gardening program adheres to a “grow-your-own” philosophy of economic development, Murray said. “It encourages community businesspersons, university students and faculty, and K-12 students to nurture global business development by using skills analogous to those employed in successful gardening,” she continued. “This includes promoting reliance on the resources, intelligence and strong work ethic characteristics of the Midwest population.”  

UNK is uniquely able to be successful in this program as it is home to a Center for Economic Education, whose mission is to educate and train teachers and K-12 students in the value of economic growth including what it means to be an entrepreneur, said Mary Rittenhouse, co-program director and director of the center.  

“To encourage the understanding of the possibilities of global entrepreneurship in the region’s K-12 student population, a Web-based, podcasted international entrepreneurship curriculum with complementary lesson plans will be created and made available to Nebraska elementary and secondary teachers,” she said. “Educating rural primary and secondary school-aged children about international entrepreneurship will have long-term positive effects for the state.”

Murray said UNK is well positioned to offer this course as it has long-standing cooperative agreements with universities in Europe, Asia and South America. UNK has a newly established program with 21 Chinese universities. These students joined nearly 250 Japanese students at UNK through an agreement with the National Collegiate Network in Tokyo, Japan.

The grant will also enable the CBT to introduce an international business minor. Students here will have opportunities to study overseas and complete internships in businesses in other countries. “The ability to participate in an international internship will vastly enhance the preparation of UNK students for working in the global marketplace,” said Mary Ann Lawson, business internship coordinator.

“We are excited about the added dimensions that this program will offer our students and the community at large,” said Dr. Bruce Forster, CBT dean and John Becker Endowed Professor of Business. “It complements the academic and other outreach programs of the College of Business and Technology in many dimensions.”