Idea, collaboration spurs the start of entrepreneur program for students

Published 1:00 pm Sunday, March 5, 2017

A spark is sometimes nothing more than a flash of light, but under slightly different circumstances that very same spark can have the potential to give birth to a raging fire.

The Albert Lea Greater Education Project is a good example of this. The concept for the program was conceived during a public forum hosted by the Education Foundation of Albert Lea.

The forum’s moderator, Lyman “Manny” Steil, and panel member John Morrison were part of the discussion, which focused on how to build bridges between Albert Lea businesses, educators and students.

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Lilah Aas, president of the Education Foundation of Albert Lea, said one of the points made during the discussion was that students needed to be open to different options.

“We are so stuck on the idea that all students need to go to college,” Aas said.

According to Steil, the group soon came to a consensus — students would profit from job shadowing experiences, mentorship and internship opportunities and endowed scholarships.

The conversation could have ended there, but it didn’t.

The idea was nurtured by Morrison, who had a proposal for Steil.

“He basically said to me, ‘Manny, you put that together, and I will pay for it,’” Steil said.

The decision to support the program took very little thought on Morrison’s part.

“It doesn’t take very long to make a decision when opportunities like this come up,” Morrison said.

Since graduating from Albert Lea High School in 1955, Morrison has established himself in the business world. Among his many accomplishments, Morrison is chairman of the board and the largest shareholder of MidwestOne Financial Group, a $3 billion banking organization. In addition, he is the owner and chairman of Central Bank Group Inc. and Central Financial Services, a bank consulting firm. Morrison’s company has purchased over 100 banks throughout the United States and many different businesses.

Morrison said his work has been financially successful and rewarding — and it has given him the opportunity to give back. Through his foundation, Morrison has donated millions of dollars with the bulk of that funding going toward universities and hospitals, including the University of St. Thomas and United Hospital, among others.

Steil has also had a successful career since graduating from ALHS in 1956. He is CEO and chairman of Communication Development Inc. and the International Listening Leadership Institute. As part of his work, he is an author, professional speaker and consultant who focuses on helping organizations enhance their performance, productivity, profitability and pleasure in their work. He has worked with 340 of the Fortune 500 companies and his speaking ventures have taken him across the world.

In support of ALHS students, Steil designed and led the building of the class of 1956’s 50-year reunion legacy gift of an outside classroom named Inspiration and Ponder Point. In addition, he has created scholarships to support continued higher education of Albert Lea High School graduates.

“I believe strongly in a simple concept that you’ve got to pay back, pay forward and make a significant difference,” Steil said.

He’s quite happy with the project so far and said it would be a shame if the community doesn’t step up to ensure the program continues.

Steil said Morrison’s contribution covers the program until the end of this school year. For the program to continue next year, about $50,000 of funding will have to be secured.

The importance of the program should not be overlooked.

“This is truly a win-win for both businesses and the students,” said project director Jean Eaton. “We are helping students make an educated decision on their future career. It is just too costly to make an uninformed or wrong career choice. We help educate them on career trends, workforce shortages, jobs available right here and what college really means — certificate to doctorate. By having a positive experience with a business professional, students have the opportunity to have a mentor or may even want to return to Albert Lea someday because of this relationship.”

According to Eaton, the business community has embraced this program, and it’s imperative that it continues beyond this year.

“The world is constantly changing,” Eaton said, “Together we can help prepare students for the future.”

By the Numbers

• 10 percent of job openings by 2018 will require a master’s degree or higher

• 20 percent of job openings by 2018 will require a bachelor’s degree

• 70 percent of job openings by 2018 will require two years of college or less

— Information from a Harvard study