‘A Good Place to Grow’ is fitting slogan for Stratton entrepreneurs
Sit down for a cup of coffee or lunch in Stratton, and almost invariably, one or two of the locals will begin a story about a business concept that sounded impossible – until some can-do person in Stratton brought it to delicious fruition. Speak to nearly anyone at the bank, and you’ll hear about an unlikely business success, a community project that turned out extraordinarily well, or a successful start-up.
The Village of Stratton is just a can-do kind of town. For example, when the grocery store owners retired and the store closed, Stratton residents decided having a town without a grocery store was simply unacceptable. So leading citizens purchased the building and invited grocers from the region to bid on starting the store up again.
Driving into Stratton you encounter a prominent sign, “Stratton – A Place to Grow.” One family that endorses the idea that a Nebraska village can be a place to grow and thrive is the Forch family.
From fuel to funerals and food
Until eight years ago, the family owned and managed Country Gas, a service station and fuel business. When Mr. Forch’s health declined, the family sold the fuel business and bought a restaurant and two funeral homes.
The change of business is not as odd as it sounds when you understand that the Forch’s son, Larry, had trained as a funeral director and was working in Houston for the largest funeral conglomerate in the world.
“I was burnt out in the city, facing traffic every day, with little time off, and participating in an assembly line approach to customer service,” Larry says. “Today, in our Stratton and Benkelman businesses, I take time to help people feel comfortable with the decisions they must make, and we protect people at a vulnerable time.”
Taking care of customers is also the mantra for the Forch’s restaurant business. According to Charlene Forch, owner and manager, the Dairy King restaurant is both a slow-food and a fast-food restaurant.
“Ninety-nine percent of our food is home cooked,” she says. “We make hash browns from fresh potatoes. We make our own stew, and serve homemade chicken and noodles. Our broasted chicken is the best in Southwest Nebraska, and our Poor Boy sandwiches remind our customers of Philadelphia’s.”
Entrepreneurs are prime assets
Entrepreneurs are among the prime assets of a community. Jack Schultz, author of Boomtown USA and 7-1/2 Keys to Big Success in Small Towns writes, “Towns that recognize that the better their entrepreneurs do, the better their town will do, generally find themselves on a positive growth curve.”
It’s own business ‘incubator’
If, as Jack Schultz write, an “incubator is an organization or place that aids the development of new business ventures especially by providing low-cost commercial space, management assistance or shared services,” Stratton achieves it…in an informal sort of way.
One example is the Dry River Saloon.
“A funeral brought me to Stratton in May of 2006, and I noticed the Saloon was for sale” says Mike Vrbas, an experienced restaurant manager from Lincoln. “I expressed an interest in buying it and then negotiated all summer with the McCook National Bank executives in Stratton. Thanks to the expertise at the bank, I am leasing to buy the business. I arrived on September 28, 2006 with $38.00 in my pocket, but we opened in January, and business is good. Our customers tell me they like the food, and they all come back.”
Mike serves fresh food and features grilled specialties such as grilled salmon, previously an unlikely menu item so deep in cattle country.
Connectivity is watchword in more ways than one
Connectivity sums-up the approach of Stratton leaders, who have connected the community and businesses via broadband and wireless Internet, but also encourage connectivity among the citizens.
People who live in Stratton and in the surrounding area know each other not only by name, but also by talent, skill set and interest.
“Among the advantages of living in small communities is you get to know people quickly,” says Diane, an employ of the McCook National Bank in Stratton. “If something is needed in Stratton from who can shoe a horse to write a business plan, stop at the front desk of the bank on Main Street, ask, and someone here will know the answer.”
Connecting with young people to help them stay in their hometown is another Stratton goal. When a long-established auto repair business closed, Ann Sutton not only went into partnership with her son Jake, an automotive tech school graduate, but also started an auto parts store to work in tandem with the enterprise.
“Jake had an opportunity to own his own business, and he chose to do that rather than work in someone else’s business for a wage,” Sutton said. “But sometimes I wonder how I got roped into this business – I didn’t realize at the time that I would need to learn a whole new language to sell auto parts.”
Quality of life is business factor
Less than 200 miles from Denver and just three miles from Swanson Lake, the Village of Stratton has an appealing location for many newcomers. But more importantly, families feel comfortable and safe in their homes, and confident their children are being raised in a safe and meaningful environment. Stratton is known as a place where people raise money to help families overcome major medical expenses, assist in business start-ups, and join together for community projects and events.
For Stratton residents, quality of life often hinges on big sky, clean air, acres of open space and opportunities to hunt, fish, bicycle, see birds and wildlife everyday. The ranchland, canyon land, and Republican River basin surrounding Stratton offer all of the tranquility, opportunity for sport and fitness, and peace of mind that any entrepreneur could wish for.
Stratton really is “A Place to Grow.”