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UNI partners with three Siouxland counties on business startups

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SIOUX CITY | Briar Cliff University senior Arsene Ngabo has an idea for starting his own business. Drawing on his own experiences, the native of the African country of Rwanda wants to help international students adjust to life in the United States.

Ngabo was heartened by what he heard during an announcement Tuesday in Sioux City.

A University of Northern Iowa division said it will partner with economic development groups in Monona, Plymouth and Woodbury counties on a new initiative aimed at supporting and encouraging business startups like Ngabo's.

"I think it's really good to know us entrepreneurs are not alone, knowing there's a community out there that will help us grow," Ngabo said after the news conference held at Western Iowa Technical College.

The three-county region was selected for UNI's Business & Community Services' Regional Entrepreneur Project. The initiative is funded by a grant UNI received from the U.S. Economic Development Administration University Center Program.

Rob Williams, program manager for UNI's Business & Community Services, said the project will focus on enhancing the existing local support system for entrepreneurship development.

"This region is doing a terrific job with a lot of resources that are available," he told the audience of more than 40.

UNI will collaborate with a number of economic development groups, which include:

-- The LeMars Area Chamber of Commerce

-- The Sioux City Economic Development Department

-- The Siouxland Initiative

-- The Woodbury County Department of Rural Economic Development

-- The Monona County Economic Development Partnership

-- Western Iowa Power Cooperative

-- Siouxland Interstate Metropolitan Planning Council

The four-year project will go through a four-phase process that includes an assessment of the region, educating regional stakeholders on best practices to cultivate an entrepreneurial support system, the development and implementation of a strategic plan based upon service provider and entrepreneur input, and continued support, Williams said.

A major goal, he said, will be to guide entrepreneurs in the right direction. In the past, he said, entrepreneurs have had trouble navigating the "maze" of services and assistance that's available.

"We want to end that maze. We want to make the right referral every time for every entrepreneur," he told the audience.

The partnership announced Tuesday is the culmination of months of negotiations between UNI and local officials.

Local leaders from the three counties who spoke Tuesday predicted the new effort would produce tangible results.

"We're excited about the opportunity for young people in our community to start a business and grow a business," Sioux City Mayor Bob Scott said.

The cluster of three neighboring western Iowa counties is the third region in the state to be designated by UNI. The other two are Adair, Audubon, Greene and Guthrie counties and Hamilton and Wright counties.

The designations were based on various factors including economic distress, recent layoffs and plant closures, regional workforce interdependence and the economic development community’s commitment to entrepreneurship as a key economic strategy.


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