Land of Lincoln CEO program seeks local business participation
Program aims to strengthen community by bringing youth back to their hometown

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[July 14, 2014]  LINCOLN - On Friday morning, an informational meeting was held at Integrity Data in downtown Lincoln. The meeting, led by Patrick Doolin, the owner of Integrity Data, wanted to release information to the public on the creation of an educational opportunity for local high school students who may be considering entrepreneurship in their future.

Lunch was provided for those in attendance by the Lincoln Community High School's Culinary Arts Program, one of the newer programs in the Lincolnland Technical Education Center (LTEC).

The business professional program would be titled Land of Lincoln CEO, or LLCEO for short, would also be offered to multiple area high schools through the LTEC. The LLCEO program began in Effingham six years ago under the Midland Institute and currently has operations in Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota.

Doolin said he has been working with LCHS superintendent Robert Bagby and Andi Hake of the Chamber of Commerce, who is also on the LCHS board of education, in order to bring this program to the area.

“The program was developed about six years ago by a group in Effingham. They had all of these students in their community that leave and don’t come back,” said Doolin. He said that several businesses in Effingham decided to find a way to encourage more of the students to return to their hometown and encourage the potential entrepreneurs among them.

As an example, Doolin said that at the beginning of a given year, three students said they could see themselves returning home after school to run a business. After going through the program, there were twenty-one students that said they could see themselves returning to their community.

“The significance of that (young people feeling like they can return home and be successful), against people thinking they have to go to the big city; that they have to sacrifice quality of life in a small town in order to do what they want to do - that’s pretty significant. And they continue to get consistent results,” said Doolin.

Doolin also said that the program seems like a natural fit for smaller communities, rather than larger urban areas.

Doolin said one of the investors, a man named Jack Schultz, who has written books on small town businesses, came to Lincoln in 2003 to speak on the program, which was in development at that time. Schultz stayed in touch with Doolin since then.

“We’ve done site visits to the class, and we’ve talked to other communities who have the program, and it’s been a breath of fresh air to see what we’ve seen,” said Doolin.

“One thing that has been stated about the 'Millennial Generation' is that they don’t really know how to interact with business people because they’ve never had the opportunity. The flipside of that is that business people don’t necessarily know how to interact with millennials,” said Doolin. “The program addresses a lot of that interaction.”

Doolin said that while the program is targeted at high school students, it will not exclusively be a high school led program. Doolin said the program would be a collaborative effort between the high schools involved and the business community. Businesses would invest and pay for the program. “It’s sponsored in the private sector, and it meets at those businesses, not at the school,” said Doolin.

Doolin also said that students have to apply to this program, with a likely maximum of fifteen students in the first year, although classes of twenty-five are typical in other areas that have the program available. Students will also be applying from multiple high schools in the county, not just from LCHS. So far, six schools have shown interest in the program.

“Sangamon County just graduated their first class in May, and one of the most difficult things for them was to turn students away,” said Doolin.

Doolin said that each class will set up a business model that they work on as a group. In addition, each student becomes responsible for creating their own business; not as a simulation, but an actual running operation that they are in charge of. Doolin said that some of these businesses are still in operation from previous classes in Effingham. Part of creating these businesses involves creating two to three business plans and selling their ideas to actual investors. Doolin pointed to an example of a college student that Bagby had spoken to in Effingham. The student had recently hired people to run her business for her while she was in classes.

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“When we sat in on some of these classes [in March], the first thing we noticed was that these did not look like high school seniors,” said Doolin. “They did not sound like high school seniors; they did not act like high school seniors. They acted like they were college graduates.”

“Listening to them talk to each other about their businesses - it was astounding. It was exciting,” said Doolin.

“I had to remind myself that these were students,” said Andi Hake, who was present at the informational meeting.

Doolin said that the business community can be available not only as potential investors, but they can provide a place for these students to visit as part of the learning process.

In addition, the program calls on guest speakers from multiple businesses to speak to the students.

“Each student is also matched with a mentor,” said Doolin. The mentors would be available outside of class hours to help students with business plans and preparation for starting the student-run operations.

Finally, at the end of the school year, the students take part in a trade show, in which they can showcase their businesses and people can hear their sales pitches and buy merchandise.

The Midland Institute would provide all of the material and equipment necessary for the program to run. They would also be in charge of hiring staff for the program in the form of a teacher. Doolin said the teacher would function more as a facilitator, in the sense that they would not be lecturing the class in the typical high school fashion. Hake equated the class format to on-the-job training rather than a typical classroom.

The staff would be chosen from a group of local members of the business community, all of whom must be qualified to teach business operations. The LLCEO Board would fund the salary of the instructor. Doolin said they are hoping to have a board structure in place within the next thirty days or so.

Doolin said investors looking to help the program would need to provide $1,000 every year for three years. One-time tax deductible donations will also be accepted, and higher amounts can be donated as well. Altogether, there is an initial start-up fee of $20,000. So far, Doolin said they are still around $6,000 short of that startup price.

“I’ve had investors say they can’t make a financial contribution, but they will host a class or a site visit. That’s great - we need everybody. Money is one part, but we need involvement from everyone in the community,” said Doolin. Several local businesses have already made such a commitment to the program.

Doolin said that out of all of the classes held as part of this program, none of the programs have folded, and only one student has ever had to be removed.

Doolin said the first class in our area is set to begin in the fall of 2015. The program still needs to find a teacher, and a list of names is being gathered for the position. Fund raising is still ongoing as well.

“We may do more meetings like this to keep everyone up to date. Spread the word, tell anyone you know who may be interested,” said Doolin. Doolin said that anyone interested can check the Chamber of Commerce website for donation and investment forms, and can go to for more information.


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