Junction City Main Street leaders hope a community forum next week will lead to building entrepreneurship and opportunities in the area.

The Main Street group will hold a community forum from 1 to 3 p.m on Nov. 17 at the C. L. Hoover Opera House.

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is sponsoring the forum, which will revolve around the subjects of diversity and equality.

Geary County has the second-highest diversity index in Kansas, according to census.gov. The county also has the second-largest share of population under 18 years of age, according to the Kids Count Data Center.

“The rich diversity and size of the youth population are tremendous assets for Geary County, but those positive data can also lead to a complacency about the challenges faced by a minority population and the needs of a younger citizen’s base,” Main Street board member Theresa Bramlage said.

Jerry Lonergan, Junction City Main Street’s interim director, said the purpose for the community forum is to continue and broaden the dialogue on race and equality, educate the population on entrepreneurship as an effective response to inequality, expand opportunity to minority populations and create jobs.

He said the organization hopes the conversations will be the beginning of developing a strategy and action steps to promote entrepreneurship in the region and to encourage the 2,000 to 2,500 soldiers who exit the Army through Fort Riley to stay in the county and share their innovations and business ambitions.

“I think Junction City doesn’t realize just how business innovative they are,” Lonergan said. “I think this is a way to kind of release that creative freedom that we’ve seen from the business community and create an opportunity for new businesses that would have a chance to improve the quality of the community and the diversity of the businesses ownership.”

During the forum, Oscar-winner and University of Kansas filmmaker Kevin Willmott of Junction City will present on the challenges entrepreneurs face in starting and growing a business in Kansas. He will share his experience as a filmmaker in the state.

Christopher Harris with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City will present data on how business start-ups and entrepreneurship can provide the charge into a diverse community, particularly one that has been struggling with job creation. Lonergan said Harris’ presentation also will relay the mounting evidence that entrepreneurship can impact the national challenge to promote equality.

A panel of high school students chosen by USD 475 staff will ask questions specific to each presentation.

During the event the students and presenters will adjourn to discuss active challenges for the community to focus on. When they return, the students will present those challenges to the community to respond to the issues and opportunities discussed in the forum.

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