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CEO program moves forward

MT. VERNON — The Jefferson County CEO: Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities program is on target to begin this fall.

Organizers expect to hire a facilitator soon and will interview two finalists Monday. However, the process of introducing the program at area schools has already begun.

The program is an entrepreneur class for high school seniors in Jefferson County. It is funded and guided solely by the business community in cooperation with area schools and the Regional Office of Education.

“To say we have a facilitator chosen and students being selected in the next two months, that's huge,” said Jeff Haarmann, president of Jefferson County CEO.

On Tuesday, juniors learned about the class at Waltonville High School and the interest level was high, Haarmann said.

“To me, that was what was really encouraging. I mean, that's when it gets exciting is when you actually get to the point where you can do something,” Haarmann said.

The hope is that some of the students who complete the course will come back to Jefferson County after college to start their own business.

College student Aaron Goeckner of Altamont extolled the virtues of the program to investors at a meeting Wednesday at RARE Chophouse.

Goeckner was a member of the 2014 CEO class at Effingham High School. The course challenged him to start and develop his own business, which he did. Goeckner Home Maintenance provides landscaping, exterior home maintenance and contract labor.

He is continuing to run the business as he attends Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. He said the hands-on nature of the CEO class helped him a great deal.

“It gives you the tools to be successful in whatever you want to do,” Goeckner said. “I mean, it's not limited to just business. It gives you the experiences and the skills to relate to people, to work with people, the soft skills not just the technical skills.”

The Jefferson County CEO program will be open to seniors from all four county high schools, as well as Rend Lake College students.

The class is offered for credit at all those schools except MVTHS. At MVTHS, the course will be non-credit at first with the possibility of becoming a credit course later on.

Students will be selected through a “blind application process,” Haarmann said. The goal will be to give students a “real-life” experience running their own business, as well as working with a team to run a class business.

CEO students will be exposed to investor contacts and hear from experts in marketing, accounting and operations. They will also visit 40 to 50 business manufacturers in the county, states a program news release.

“Entrepreneurs come in many shapes and forms,” Haarmann said in the release. “A typical classroom setting with a teacher dictating lines for a student to regurgitate on a test may not be the right atmosphere to unlock the spirit of a computer code programmer who may have a gift but needs to understand how it can become a business. When our student selection committee reviews the applications, they will be looking for characteristics consistent with entrepreneurs as opposed to GPAs.”

The facilitator will be paid by the program, and certified with the help of the ROE and Rend Lake College.

“If we can reach out and give a helping hand to a younger person who's wanting to go into business … the possibilities are endless,” said investor Brandon Bullard of RARE.

Organizers are now accepting applications from high school juniors who want to be considered for the inaugural class this fall.

For more information, visit or the Jefferson County CEO Facebook page.

Source: Mount Vernon Register-News/


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