North Platte Community College students gained real-world experience this summer thanks to an Extreme Business Makeover class.
Students Travis Halligan, Danya Mintle, Kathryn Smitherman and Tara Krupicka created a business plan for the Lincoln County Ag Society to determine whether or not an indoor arena could be a feasible and sustainable investment.
The purpose was to provide hands-on training in the development of a business plan and to connect the students with local businesses and other organizations.
"It was fun to watch the students grow through the process," said Cathy Nutt, business instructor. "It was real life, and they were dealing with real people, real problems and real dollars. Because it was so experiential, it made the lessons learned very real also."
Led by Nutt, fellow business instructor Angie Chittick and Mike Steele, the college's area vice president of administrative services, the class followed in the footsteps of similar projects NPCC students have worked on – including business plans for the Prairie Arts Center and the homeless shelter in North Platte.
"In addition to giving the students practical experience, the Extreme Business Makeover class taught them that solutions and answers do not come easy," said Chittick. "The students were faced with challenges, adversity and obstacles and had to think outside the box to troubleshoot, solve problems and persevere."
The project didn't require students to consider a cost of construction for an arena – only the viability. That process, alone, took a lot of time and research.
"We compared it to other indoor arenas in and around Nebraska," Mintle said. "We looked at potential events it could house, comparatives of a concrete versus dirt floor and, by working with the North Platte and Lincoln County Visitors Bureau, potential economic impact."
The project allowed her to put into practice skills she had learned in the classroom.
"It's one thing to read about how business plans are set up – it's another to actually create one," Mintle said. "Because this project had real-life implications, it was much more realistic, and there was more weight to it. It was fun to watch how the plan evolved."
Halligan agreed, commenting that he appreciated being able to put a business plan together as an assignment before having to figure it out on the job.
"This project gave me a head start going into the workforce," Halligan said. "As a graphic designer, I was able to practice a lot of the design, information gathering and communication skills I will use on a daily basis. I was also able to put together materials for a portfolio and now have something new to list on a résumé."
The assignment didn't come without its challenges, however. The students soon learned that not everyone wanted to share information about their facilities.
"That was eye-opening for me," Halligan said. "I thought contacting and asking questions of current arena managers would be the easiest part, but it turned out to be the most difficult. A lot of them saw us as competition. As soon as we asked how much it cost to run various events, they were like, 'Nope'."
Mintle said most of the closed doors came from large venues – not the small ones. About halfway through, she made one contact that gave her the confidence to keep going.
"The person I talked to at the Casper Events Center in Casper, Wyo. was super helpful," Mintle said. "He was very nice and forward with everything. Talking to him and presenting what I had found to the Ag Society were my favorite parts of the assignment."
The entire business plan hit close to home for Halligan.
"I come from a rodeo background, so for me, this project was a way to give back to the community and to stay connected to the western way of life," Halligan said. "I liked learning about all the events that could be possible with an indoor arena – there are more than I imagined. But most importantly, I gained skills that I can use no matter where life takes me, and that counts for a lot."