QUINCY – Had he known about an entrepreneurial opportunity program like Adams County CEO when he was in high school, Brian Fox might have taken a slightly more direct route to his career in hotel management.
Admittedly, the Tracy Holdings vice president and chief operating officer might have avoided a misstep or two along the way.
But when he sees the look in the eye of a high school senior pursuing a business goal, with a workable plan in hand, Fox knows they’re way ahead of where he was at that age.
“Seeing these 17-year-olds wake up early in the morning, the ones who decided to go to a class off-site that starts at seven or seven-thirty in the morning… you usually do not see that in high school kids , ”Fox said Thursday afternoon at the Oakley-Lindsay Center, site of the second Adams County CEO (Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities) trade show. “Every kid has been super passionate once they get into it.”
The Effingham-based Midland Institute developed the year-long program for high school seniors in seven states so that area businesses can share project-based learning experiences by providing funding, expertise, meeting space, business tours and one-on-one mentoring.
Unity senior Annabelle Schaffnit would like to pursue a career in agriculture. She applied to the program on the advice of her grandfather, who builds grain bins and grain elevators for Shaffer Enterprises in Ursa.
“When he read (about Adams County CEO), he thought it would be a great program,” she said. “Since I am the oldest grandkid, he kind of threw me in and hoped I swam.”
Schaffnit also credits her mentor, Katie Roskamp of Sullivan Auctioneers in Hamilton, for sharing important insights into today’s business world and employer expectations.
“Employers are looking for confidence and overall people skills,” Roskamp told Schaffnit. “If I can interact and work well with others, I can get a job almost anywhere.”
Prior to taking on the role of Adams County CEO Facilitator, Roger Leenerts owned and operated a successful, small manufacturing company for 16 years. An Adams County native and currently an adjunct instructor in business at Quincy University, Leenerts especially enjoys working with young people who may want to own their own business someday.
“We know that introducing a business to the community to the young people, and showing them how it works, is a long-term process,” Leenerts said prior to the start of Thursday’s trade show. “Most of these kids are going to leave town eventually and go to college.
“We want them to know that there’s great business here in Adams County that they can come back to. We also want them to know if they want to start a business, that Adams County is a great place to make that happen. ”
Alex Buss, a senior at Payson Seymour High School, was surprised at her ability to make instant connections within the business community.
“I thought there might be some barriers, but I was wrong,” said Buss, whose Business of Cookies display included a batch of Oreo truffles and her grandma’s favorite, peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. “Really, (in business) I’ve learned that you just have to go for it. Multiple times we’ve reached out to area businesses and they’ve been very welcoming. ”
Buss, senior class president and a member of the school’s dance team, said she spent about 15 hours over the past two days preparing her 10 dozen cookies, which she was selling for $ 1 and $ 2 apiece.
“I learned a lot from my grandma growing up, and it’s something I really like to do,” she said.
Fox, one of seven mentors for the Class of 2022, is pleased with the progress of the program and happy to report that next year’s class will double in size.
“It’s really a great opportunity for business owners to get to know the students, and for them to learn about us, and from us,” he said. “We’ve all had some life experiences to share, and this program enables us to do that.”