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County gets E-Community status


Funding and education for Ellis County entrepreneurs will become more accessible in light of the county's recent designation as an Entrepreneurship Community.

Last month, Ellis County was selected, along with seven other Kansas communities, to participate in the NetWork Kansas program that emphasizes development of community resources to build entrepreneurial environments.

In addition to Ellis County, the cities of Humboldt and Liberal and counties of Montgomery, Reno, Sherman, Wabaunsee and Wichita were granted $675,000 in tax credits, enabling them to raise $900,000 to be loaned to local businesses in their communities.

A launch event for the E-Community program is planned for Nov. 15 during the Hays Welcome Center's fifth anniversary celebration.

The E-Community program opens a process for entrepreneurs to be evaluated on skills such as marketing, bookkeeping and financing, then put them in touch with an appropriate mentor with experience in operating a business.

"It's a great opportunity to help promote entrepreneurship and provide a process folks can go through to help increase their chances of success in starting a new business ... securing financing and finding out who the resources are in the area," said Aaron White, executive director of Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development.

A local leadership team has been at the forefront of the process to gain E-Community status.

"We've got a great buy-in from the community," White said.

The NetWork Kansas E-Community partnership, now in its sixth year, has grown from six communities in 2007 to 38 in 2012. The E-Community partnership allows a town, a cluster of towns or an entire county to raise seed money for local entrepreneurs through donations from individuals or businesses within the community.

During the first five years of the E-Community partnership, more than $6 million has been raised. Those funds are estimated to generate more than $34.1 million of investment in rural businesses in Kansas.

Opportunities for Ellis County extend not only to Hays, White said, but Ellis, Victoria and all small communities throughout the county.

Locally, the E-Community partnership is in the process of selling $125,000 in tax credits. The money raised will be placed into an account set up by NetWork Kansas and managed by the Northwest Kansas Planning and Development Commission.

"They'll do all the inbound payment receipts and the outbound check flows, and then we'll start marketing the program and looking for candidates who are interested in talking to us about starting a business," White said.

Participating in the E-Community partnership is an exciting prospect for White, who said he sees the informational and educational component of the program to be its greatest draw, giving entrepreneurs the benefit of its leadership team's expertise.

"Overall, I foresee that folks going through our process and then going in front of a banker are better prepared and are better candidates for the banks to actually lend money to them," White said. "That preparation will help everybody who's involved in this process, to get them ready to apply for the loan."