Students who graduate from high school are confident there are great opportunities awaiting them as they head out the door with that diploma in hand — but most believe that opportunity exists someplace else.

How do youth see their community? Do they visualize the streets of opportunity, with the hope of one day returning to the place where they were raised, or are they seeing what they believe to be a dead end, firmly determined to get out as soon as is possible and never come back? Statistics continue to show students who graduate from high school are confident there are great opportunities awaiting them as they head out the door with that diploma in hand, but most believe that opportunity exists someplace else. How does a community begin to change that way of thinking? According to Craig Lindvahl, part of that answer lies within the business community and the education system, as those two entities work together to create an environment that demonstrates to those students they are valued and encourages them to pursue their entrepreneurial ideas. A program Lindvahl has developed called Creating Entrepreneurial Oppor-tunities (CEO) was presented locally to the community this past Tuesday. 

Representatives from various businesses and the local school district were in attendance to hear what Lindvahl had to say regarding the CEO concept. According to Lindvahl, the project brings together students in a community at a setting that is outside of school where they meet together to work and develop a business plan and then implement it. Encouraging entrepreneurship, said Lindvahl, has proven to convince students there are options that would allow them to stay home. Lindvahl said this kind of hands-on education can help students gain experience they would not get in a traditional classroom. He said more businesses today are looking beyond the piece of paper a prospective employee gets from a college or university to determine whether or not they can actually do the job. “It’s not just about getting a diploma anymore,” said Lindvahl. Lindvahl said the entire concept is about making students better people and helping them gain a sense of personal responsibility. A program like CEO only works, said Lindvahl, if the business community buys into it, and he said it is getting those businesses to invest financially in the idea that not only shows students there are people interested in them but it creates a sense of ownership from the business side. Those businesses that invest have shown as the program has continued – the first program is now in its seventh year – to take an increased interest in the program as they mentor students, come in and speak with the students and mentor them as they try and create their business. Lindvahl, a teacher and filmmaker by trade, said bringing business people in from different walks of life can help students see each element of the business world, and having different leaders with different experiences can help the program be successful. After all, he said he is not the numbers guy, but there are people in business who are. Having them teach the kids about those parts of running a business provide that practical education they need to be successful. Granted, added Lindvahl, there are times when businesses fail, and he added that is a good lesson for them to learn when they are 18, rather than in their 40s when they end up losing everything. “What we are doing is helping them create a vision,” said Lindvahl, adding that could mean they take the business they develop and become successful with it or they take the ideas they have learned and start a different one. A CEO program is being started in Kandiyohi County, which is the third in Minnesota. There are 14 programs in the region. Lindvahl said he is willing to work with the area school and businesses to develop a program for the Redwood area if there is interest.