Hawthorne NxLeveL Discussion Group

In A Class All It’s Own: NxLeveL and Beyond in Hawthorne, NV

What happens when classmates just don’t want school to end? Hawthorne NxLeveL instructor Clint Koble found out, the good way.

“This is a class that has refused to die,” said Clint, laughing.

Not only has the class declined death, it has decided to expand its role and give back to the Hawthorne local business community by using the skills learned in NxLeveL.

NxLeveL is an entrepreneurial training program that is offered in 48 states and has over ten years of professional instruction history. Here in Nevada, Kathy Carrico at the Nevada Small Business Development Center (NSBDC) has overseen the program for more than eight years. However, the class that started in February and graduated in May, was the first time NxLeveL has been offered in Hawthorne, Nevada. Twenty-one interested students signed up, and all twenty-one graduated the ten-week course. But the fun didn’t stop there.

With the help of Shelley Hartmann, the Executive Director of the Economic Development Authority for Mineral County, and the mentorship of their former instructor, Clint, sixteen of the twenty-one NxLeveL graduates formed a post-class discussion group to continue the momentum and camaraderie they built in class. They meet once a month at Shelley’s office in the Economic Development Authority, where the entrepreneurs continue learning by sharing experiences and challenging each other to improve their business models.

“I’ve had people in business for 30 years,” said Shelley. “They wish they would have known in the beginning [what they’ve learned in NxLeveL] because now that they know, they’re on fire.”

“Shelley’s a great facilitator,” said Clint.

With her help, the class has welcomed guest speakers each month, the last two of whom were Jim Annis, from Applied Business Solutions in Reno, and Kathy Agee of Nevada Procurement Outreach Program (POP). The classmates own a wide variety of businesses, from a family clothing store to a physical therapy center, and even a commercial worm farm. Each meeting allows seemingly dissimilar members to discuss the common threads in their businesses and the positive or negative effects of changes they’ve made since taking NxLeveL.

And positive changes have occurred: businesses have reorganized their layouts or improved their in-store marketing by displaying signs for different departments and changing their window exteriors to better showcase their products. Some have created customer surveys and hosted community events. Others held customer appreciation days to invite Hawthorne citizens back into their newly revitalized businesses.

Many of these ideas were sparked by a simple suggestion from a visiting NSBDC counselor. The class began performing “on-site business assessments”, whereby the members meet at one of the participants’ businesses and take a tour. They are encouraged to ask detailed questions and look critically at the business operation. Upon returning to the Economic Development Authority, the class breaks into two or three groups that act as independent marketing firms. In twenty minutes each group devises a strategic marketing plan for the business in question.

“When [owners] get up in front of the class and have to answer questions, for some [people] it’s been scary, but in the end they all rise above it because they get so much support,” said Clint.

“[We’ve found] some great genius from people thinking in the same positive direction,” he continued. “[The marketing exercises] challenge their intellects and provide something that the class looks forward to every week.”

In fact, the entrepreneurial classmates so greatly appreciate the power of such brainstorms that they plan to offer their system as a benefit to the rest of the Hawthorne business community.

“NxLeveL has been the foundation of the revitalization of our community,” said Shelley.

They have also volunteered to be the mentors for the next NxLeveL class. Their local collaboration doesn’t stop there. One member, Kathy Trujillo, owns At Liberty Bookstore and writes a showcase article called “The Good Neighbor Column” in which she details other businesses in the community and what they have been doing recently.

Ultimately the class realizes that in these difficult times, “our [economic] future’s on our shoulders and we’re going to keep marching forward,” said Clint.

A man of many hats, Clint Koble couldn’t be happier about the dynamic he’s helped foster. “It’s a privilege to be with them on this journey,” said Clint, whose full-time job is that of Executive Director of the Rural Nevada Development Corporation. He continued, “I love the class, it’s a great inspiration.”

When asked about his experiences teaching NxLeveL Clint responded, “As instructors we need to pull knowledge out of people, more than just instill it. There’s a lot of inherent knowledge [in people] that needs to be nurtured.” And every month, sixteen business owners in Hawthorne, NV prove it to be true.

Success story compiled and written by Cecil “Chuck” McCumber – Graduate Assistant – Nevada Small Business Development Center