Authors: Vice President of Community Development & Corporate Philanthropy Alec Gorynski & Vice President of Agribusiness Banking Chris Kalkowski
At FNBO, we know banks are integral to community success and can be one of the biggest agents for positive change. As a result, we encourage the economic health of communities across our geographic footprint by inspiring small business growth and supporting underserved communities. One way we reach these goals is through education and workforce development initiatives aimed at encouraging local job growth, such as those provided by our support of FFA.
Why FFA Is Vital to the Future of Agribusiness
Across the agriculture industry, businesses are struggling to attract and retain quality workers. One reason is an increasing trend toward urbanization, as a generation of youth seeks cities and suburbs, potentially losing touch with what it takes to grow and produce the food we all eat.
Simultaneously, jobs in agribusiness are increasingly reliant on specialized skills and training. Research conducted by Purdue University projects growth of 2.6% in employment opportunities related to food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and the environment between 2020 and 2025. Many of these positions will require a bachelor’s degree or higher. In fact, agricultural positions in management and business, or those related to science and engineering, will see the biggest growth throughout this time period.
Filling positions like these becomes dependent upon attracting youth back to agricultural roots, not just through roles as producers, but across the agribusiness industry. More importantly, inspiring students to embark on careers in the agricultural field begins in the classroom, long before students fill out their first college application. That’s why FNBO is proud to support vital agricultural communities across the regions we serve through FFA.
Previously known as the Future Farmers of America, FFA has a long and storied history within the agricultural community that began with the Smith Hughes Act in 1917. This legislation provided federal aid to support states in efforts to advance vocational education in agriculture and home economics.
In 1928, Future Farmers of America was officially formed, following the model established by the Future Farmers of Virginia. Since that time, FFA has grown across all 50 states, adapting to changes in the industry with increasingly more challenging curriculum requirements and expanded opportunities for youth exploring the business of agriculture.
FFA offers vital lessons for youth in the basics of food production as well as advanced concepts, such as leadership and business skills. Beyond classroom teaching, students are required to pursue hands-on learning, increasing knowledge by doing and participating in activities across the entire agribusiness industry. This includes practicing concepts related to effective business management, leadership skills and agricultural processes. This is a skillset that will be vital to the next generation of agribusiness leaders.
How and Why FNBO Supports FFA
FNBO’s mission to support economic growth across agricultural communities made a partnership with FFA a natural fit. Throughout the years, FNBO has supported the FFA program and their educational programming through financial donations to around 40 FFA chapters throughout the FNBO footprint, amounting to nearly $50,000 since 2017.
In addition to our support of FFA’s work throughout the communities we call home, we’re also proud to support the Launch! program. Four years ago, we met with Nebraska FFA about teaming up on a larger project that would encourage economic growth across agricultural communities by helping to shape a new workforce. Nebraska FFA expressed their plans to expand their School-Based Enterprise learning program, where students are required to start a business and see it through. A School-Based-Enterprise is an opportunity to create a new source of income for an agriculture program, provide hands-on agribusiness experience to students and generate support and involvement in a local community. The result was the Launch! program, an annual contest designed to support school-based business ventures.
Each year, FFA chapters across Nebraska come up with a business idea, create a plan and then pitch it to the Launch! panel of judges. Winners are then granted seed money to support their business development initiatives.
However, winning groups receive far more than financial support from the selection panel. Volunteers offer business coaching and technology assistance to help ensure that each group meets their goals and realizes business success.
In the end, life lessons go a long way. In 2018, four young women from Rock County High School in Bassett, Nebraska, were awarded assistance through Launch! in support of their business, On the Go Gelato.
Under the guidance of their FFA adviser, the young businesswomen spent about 10 hours a week making and serving gelato to fellow students and community members, utilizing school events and local functions to expand their business. During the first fall of operation, they made $3,500 and have continued to grow. On the Go Gelato has been so successful that the company is ready for its first change in leadership, as graduating founders transfer the reigns to incoming high school students.
Now in its third year, the Launch! program awards around five budding businesses with cash support each year. With four to five students in each business, that equates to nearly 60 students learning hands-on business lessons that will help support local communities in the years to come.
As one of the largest agribusiness lenders in the nation, FNBO is proud to support the next generation of agribusiness leaders through our partnership with FFA.
About the Authors
Alec Gorynski serves as Vice President of Community Development and Corporate Philanthropy for FNBO and President of the First National Community Development Corporation. In his role he heads the bank’s efforts to be an agent of positive change in its communities through philanthropy, investing, leadership, and the use other bank tools across its seven-state footprint. Complementing his professional experience, Alec is a co-founder and board member of Spark – a community development intermediary; past-president and Treasurer of Omaha 100 – a nonprofit CDFI; and holds board and sub-committee positions with Lending Link, the Nebraska Arts Council, the Omaha Community Foundation, and InCommon Community Development. He holds a Masters of Public Administration from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and Bachelor of Science degrees in Psychology and Criminal Justice from Peru State College.
Chris Kalkowski has been at First National Bank of Omaha since 1998 and a member of our agribusiness banking team since 2003. As Sr. Director of Agribusiness Banking, he works closely with agribusiness leaders throughout the Midwest. In his spare time, Chris enjoys hunting, ranching and giving back to his local community.