• Warsaw, Mo., business owner Jennifer Flores on a 2023 Connecting Entrepreneurial Communities panel. Photo by Vanessa Shinn.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Connecting Entrepreneurial Communities, a brainchild of community and business development specialists with University of Missouri Extension, is bearing fruit months afterward.

Benton County hosted the CEC conference last September for those who decide where scarce rural resources are allocated – such as people in government, banking, community development, nonprofits and education – to help them understand how those decisions affect entrepreneurs. MU Extension collaborated with Benton County Economic Development, Benton County Tourism and other county partners. The conference was hosted by the county’s three main towns: Cole Camp, Lincoln and Warsaw.

One participant, Danielle Moellman, co-owner of Moellman Well & Pump Service of Cole Camp, met people and networked with community business members.

“I learned about a lot of resources that are available that I didn’t know about,” she said. “Through state economic development, I learned about apprenticeships and things like that.”

The business she runs with her husband serves not only residential customers but also agricultural businesses such as poultry operations. They will be installing new well and water systems at egg barns in Benton County this year, for example.

Moellman says she and her husband want to help people who are struggling to get and maintain well systems.

“I had met a lady with Pettis County USDA Rural Development, and then I learned more from Henry County ladies at the CEC about funds available for well installation and repair to help people afford it,” she said.

Growth and sustainability are essential for rural communities to thrive and strengthening agriculture communities in Missouri is a major goal of University of Missouri Extension, said coordinator Amie Breshears, MU agribusiness specialist in Benton County.

Jennifer Flores, owner of Country Charm boutique in Warsaw, was on a speaker panel at the CEC explaining how she created her business in her small community and the resources she used.

“We were able to give insight to others who are advocating for other businesses and help them,” she said. “We shared our real-life stories and experiences to allow them to use our stories to help other entrepreneurs!” Flores founded Country Charm in a rented storefront in 2018 and has grown her business to the point that she bought her own building in downtown Warsaw in 2023.

Michelle Givens, owner of Main Event Wedding Boutique & Event Rental LLC, was part of the Warsaw CEC planning committee and hosted CEC breakout sessions at her business. “This conference helped my business by showing others what my business is capable of as I provide several diverse services in our rural area. I loved being able to show off our community and county to benefit all our businesses. That is the heart of what it takes to keep rural communities growing and alive.”

Breshears said it’s important to remember that rural communities are structured around agriculture. “Ag business is a key partner of business development in rural areas. Ag is often the foundation on which other businesses, such as retail, restaurants and professional services, can be built and succeed.”

One of the many goals of MU Extension is rural community growth and revitalization, she said.

The 2024 Connecting Entrepreneurial Communities event is Sept. 17-19 in Callaway County. For more information, visit

Warsaw, Mo., business owner Jennifer Flores on a 2023 Connecting Entrepreneurial Communities panel. Photo by Vanessa Shinn.