• Swinging bridge at Lay Park, Warsaw, Mo., in Benton County. Photo courtesy Benton County Tourism & Recreation.
    Swinging bridge at Lay Park, Warsaw, Mo., in Benton County. Photo courtesy Benton County Tourism & Recreation.

This year’s Connecting Entrepreneurial Communities (CEC) conference, Sept. 20-21 in Benton County, will provide several days of learning about rural innovations for leaders with an eye on business growth. Participants will tour businesses in Cole Camp, Warsaw and Lincoln.

“This conference is designed for people who decide where resources go,” said Annette Kendall, assistant extension professor of business and innovation in the University of Missouri Division of Applied Social Sciences. “Those in government, banking, education, libraries who can provide services to entrepreneurs who want to do something differently.”

The event is presented by MU Extension with Benton County Economic Development and Benton County Tourism and Recreation. Benton County is 108 miles southeast of Kansas City and about 90 miles north of Springfield.

The big three

“Our communities are so beautiful; all three of them are different and unique,” said Jo Ann Lane, director of Benton County Economic Development. “Cole Camp has German heritage, and most of their downtown is on the national historic registry. Lincoln is smaller, but we have a great event planned for Lincoln. Warsaw is so beautiful, located where the Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Lake meet.”

With breakout sessions in shops and businesses throughout Benton County, the 2023 CEC conference offers the unique opportunity to learn about and experience an entrepreneurial community up close and personal, said Amie Breshears, MU Extension ag business specialist.

“People who are determined to see their communities improve and grow are invited to take part in CEC,” Breshears said.

“The value that you receive from the event will be tremendous,” Lane said. “You get to choose what works best for your community from the 25 different workshops offering valuable information you can bring back to your communities, whether you’re in economic development, chamber of commerce, city administration or county government.”

Cooperation is key

The key to success in Benton County and surrounding counties is working together, said Breshears. “Networking is key. A rising tide lifts all boats.”

“Bringing the whole county together is how we do it,” said Lane. “Every month, we have a three-chamber meeting, along with tourism, economic development and MU Extension. We decide how we can help each other and not overlap events, or make sure our events complement each other.”

Breshears and Lane attended the 2022 CEC in Hannibal and decided Benton County would be a good fit for the conference, Lane said. “We’ve been seeing more growth in the county in recent years – even during COVID, when a lot of business were shut down. Our high-speed internet services are attractive to those who wish to work remotely and enjoy smaller-town living.”

Agriculture is the foundation

Breshears said it’s important to remember that rural communities are structured around agriculture. “Ag business IS business. There are no businesses without ag business,” she said.

“Rural people tend to stick around,” she continued. “They step up and take care of things in rural communities. They’re a great source of stability; the foundation of the rural social structure. They volunteer and help each other out.

“Family farms are passed from generation to generation, and increasing entrepreneurship helps bring kids back to agriculture and ag businesses.”

Starts with vision

“There’s no formula to revitalizing rural communities but it starts with the efforts of local people – people with a vision,” said Kendall. “Rural people are the most innovative. They just get on and do things, new ways of doing things that better peoples’ lives.”

A full agenda brings participants to all three towns in Benton County for learning opportunities and networking.

Conference details and registration are at

Registration ends Sept. 10 or when maximum attendance is reached.

Early registration fee is $125. After July 31 it’s $150.

Swinging bridge at Lay Park, Warsaw, Mo., in Benton County. Photo courtesy Benton County Tourism & Recreation.