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Schultz address Bioscience Conference, says today's youths are critical to future growth

Jack Schultz, CEO of Agracel Inc., speaks to the many people in attendance at the seventh Annual Regional Bioscience Conference Friday morning at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington.1 / 2
Eighth-grade Worthington Middle School Science Club member Trevor Wietzema (from left) explains his potato gun project to Gail Dennison of the Hormel Institute and Dr. Wayne Freese of Prairie Holdings during the Bioscience Conference Friday morning at Minnesota West Community College in Worthington.2 / 2

WORTHINGTON -- Students representing the Worthington Middle Science Club at the Regional Bioscience Conference Friday morning quickly caught Jack Schultz's eyes.

"I want the young people up front -- this is the audience I want to talk to," Schultz said at the start of his "Boomtown USA: The 7½ Keys to Big Success in Small Towns" presentation. "This generation is going to be the most entrepreneurial generation in the history of the U.S. This is your future, and you need to be sitting in the front instead of the back."

Schultz, the author of a 2004 book of the same name as his presentation, is the founder and CEO of Agracel Inc., a firm concentrating on rural economic development. He recalled getting start in his chosen field "almost by happenstance" after spending 10 years in the farming and seed business.

"In the late '80s, our community was suddenly thrown up in the air," said Schultz, explaining that companies were closing their doors, relocating production sites and consolidating. "For a period of time in our small town, the economy went dead. ... A small group of us got together and decided, 'We need to take things into our own hands.'''

Since that time, Schultz noted, his hometown -- Effingham, Ill. -- has gone from having lost 3,000 manufacturing jobs to gaining 6,000. With that success, he began to look to encourage and facilitate rural economic development nationwide.

When it comes to growth, Schultz said the unlikely advice of baseball hall-of-famer Yogi Berra should be heeded: "If you come to a fork in the road, take it." He cited the city of Leavenworth, Wash., an example.

"(Leavenworth) fell from 5,000 people living in the community to only 1,000 people, and it looked like an economic ghost town," Schultz stated. "But there was the Vesta Women's Club. ... Those 11 women literally drew a line in the sand and said, 'Stop, we need to figure out what we can do to save our community."'

The group subsequently met with a University of Washington consultant and ultimately opted to reinvent Leavenworth as a Bavarian village -- "even though there were no Bavarians in the town," Schultz said.

Today, Schultz added, Leavenworth has doubled its population, has 500 members of its chamber of commerce and attracts 1.5 million tourists on a regular basis.

"They have been so successful that they have had 40 families that have moved to the town," Schultz said, pausing for effect, "from Bavaria.

"It's a great example of what people with passion and a love for the community can do if they work together."

That type of can-do attitude is the first of Schultz's 7½ keys. The second -- shaping a vision -- can be exemplified by the city of Columbus, Ind.

"Columbus is a city of 39,000 people ... and there are now 71 architecturally significant buildings, which is more per capita than any other city in the world," Schultz said. "It's now deemed the sixth-most architecturally significant city in the U.S., and it's all because of the vision and passion of one person in the community. If you're one person, you'd be shocked and amazed at what you can do to transform your community."

A third key -- leveraging your resources -- is already being done in Worthington, sad Schultz, referencing the groundbreaking ceremony earlier Friday morning at the Biotechnology Advancement Center.

"There are so many resources in a place like Worthington, or this whole area," said Schultz, who also pointed out the region's wind energy and agricultural opportunities.

Additional keys are raising strong leaders and encouraging an entrepreneurial approach -- and that's where younger citizens come in.

"What really gets me is excited ... is Generation Y, or what I call the millennium generation," he explained. "We have got to develop, we have got to nurture the young people and nurture their entrepreneurial instincts."

After going through a handful of examples of young, successful businesspeople, Schultz made his final -- and arguably most important --point

"There's absolutely no reason why the same thing can't happen here in Worthington, Minnesota," he said.

Schultz went on to give additional remarks following a break for conference attendees to view displays created by the Worthington Middle School Science Club. A presentation on using swine hearts to save human lives was also included in the morning's activities.

The two-day, seventh annual Regional Bioscience Conference began Thursday. It was sponsored by Southwest Initiative Foundation and hosted by Worthington Regional Economic Development Corp.

Ryan McGaughey

I first joined the Daily Globe in April 2001 as sports editor. I later became the news editor in November 2002, and the managing editor in August 2006. I'm originally from New York State, and am married with two children.

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