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CEO Program Hopes To Combat Local 'Brain Drain'

A program that would take groups of Greeneville and Greene County kids out of the classroom and into local businesses for hands-on learning could be the first of its type in the state.

Local government, school and business leaders first learned about CEO -- the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship's Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities program -- in 2015, and have been working to establish the initiative locally ever since.

The goal: to teach kids how to conceptualize, start and run a small business.

Funded by investors, CEO classes never meet in a school building. Instead, students gather at local companies where they learn to develop business plans both with a group and on their own. Then, they conceptualize and run a classwide business.

Local government, school and business officials say they believe a local CEO program for Greeneville City and Greene County schools would benefit the community well into the future.

They hope that it will help address what many call "brain drain" -- students earning a high quality K-12 education in the local school systems, only to leave the community permanently in adulthood.

CEO aims to teach kids how to produce and, in turn, invest in the community.

"It's not only teaching entrepreneurship, but it's teaching students in a new way to open their eyes," said City Administrator Todd Smith.

Smith said that business leaders will see that students who go through CEO "are going to be dynamic, innovative, forward-thinking employees and business associates."

Like CEO alumni from the more than 30 existing programs in Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota and Missouri, local students who complete the program may end up launching their own business shortly after completing the 9-month program.

Smith is currently spearheading the effort to get more local businesses to buy into a local CEO offering.

"The CEO program is funded by private investors, not the school systems," he explained.

Local businesses and industries are being called upon to invest $1,000 annually for three years and serve as mentors and host sites.

"We need roughly 40 investors for the program itself. We've got probably half of the investors needed," Smith said.

By Nov. 1, $25,000 for start up costs will be submitted to CEO to establish a local oversight board and provide training for a program facilitator. A facilitator has not yet been selected, Smith said.

"You can almost think of it like buying into a franchise," Smith said. "The funds are already committed. We are ready to write that check, with our ultimate goal of August 2017 having the program up and going, fully functional."

Along with Smith, a small committee has been working to recruit investors and increase interest in the program.

MECO Corporation President Mark Proffitt is among those supportive of the effort. MECO has pledged its support, and as a committee member, Proffitt is active in working toward launching the program.

"One of the key things that CEO accomplishes is, it takes the students who often times have a very narrow focus of the world and it helps them expand and see what all of the opportunities really are," he said. "I just latched onto it because I could see the similarities in where I picked up some advantages and they can pick up some advantages as well."

Proffitt likened the program to efforts in years past, when students would travel outside of the classroom to participate in various meetings, tour industries and take in other experiences.

Details on how the program will function locally haven't been fully detailed. However, Smith said the town is working with officials at Tusculum College and in both local school systems in hopes of establishing a dual enrollment-style program that will let students simultaneously earn high school and college credits.

Tusculum College officials declined to publicly comment on the prospect of a dual-enrollment program, as it has not been formally voted on by the Board of Trustees. However, the program may be included on the board's October agenda, which has not yet been set, said Suzanne Richey, director of communications for the college.

However, work toward establishing the program locally continues and school, business and community leaders are focusing on new opportunities that could soon be available to local teens.

"I am excited for the opportunities that students, who are not sure what they want to do past high school, have in a program like CEO," said Greeneville City Director of Schools Dr. Jeff Moorhouse. "This program's focus on entrepreneurship will engage students in their personal interests and see if they can turn that into a career."

The prospect of students being able to earn college credit through CEO is particularly exciting, he added.

"The opportunity for them to earn college credit through the process will, hopefully, allow them to successfully see their next steps to the training they need to fulfill their dream," Moorhouse said.

When the program launches, local educators will likely be called on to help identify students' interests that can be converted into a business plan.

"It could be something like, the kids who like to doodle on paper and are leaning the direction of art -- getting them creating art and selling it," Proffitt said. "We will need help from guidance counselors and teachers, who have knowledge of those kids to a certain degree, to help them understand how this program can benefit them."

Proffitt added that students who apply to the program will be chosen blindly by a selection committee.

"I hope we have more kids sign up than we have spaces for," he said, adding that, in 2017, the program will likely have 25 spaces -- five available to each high school in Greeneville and Greene County.

But, Proffitt emphasized, CEO is different from other programs in that it's not aimed squarely at high-achieving students.

The program will appeal to both high performers and average students, he said.

"There's going to be a back-and-forth going on that enhances everyone's abilities," he said. "You're going to have C- and D-students in there, challenging the straight A guys. They'll learn how to work together and accept others' ideas. That's a huge benefit to them."

Smith said he believes that, the more the business community learns about CEO, the more interest in it will build.

"We have had a positive reaction from the business community," he said. "We'll be meeting to address the business community about what this program really is as we look for about 20 more investors."

Officials at the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship have also expressed excitement about the prospect of Greeneville and Greene County hosting Tennessee's first CEO program.

"Once this program is up and running, we will be the first CEO program in Tennessee," Smith said. "We've been getting a lot of support and encouragement from corporate CEO folks, because they are very interested in the Tennessee market."

To learn more about the CEO program, visit www.midlandinstitute.com.

Businesses and industries interested in learning more about investing in the program locally, serving as mentors or host sites,should contact Smith by calling Greeneville Town Hall at 639-7105.

By: Sarah R. Gregory 
Source: The Greeneville Sun

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