Nebraska State Fair once-a-year opportunity for GROW members to get statewide exposure

Nebraska State Fair once-a-year opportunity for GROW members to get statewide exposure

Nebraska State Fair once-a-year opportunity for GROW members to get statewide exposure

State Fair GROW Nebraska Store Entrance

Grand Island, Neb – “There’s nothing more Nebraskan” than the Nebraska State Fair, and there’s no better way to support the state than helping its small businesses thrive. 

That’s why the GROW Nebraska Foundation is bringing back the Buy Nebraska Store to the 2021 fair for the 17th year in a row. 

The more than 300,000 attendees who typically show up to the event in Grand Island, hosted this year Aug. 27 – Sept. 6, will have the chance to stop by the store at the Pinnacle Bank Expo Center and support more than 40 local Nebraska businesses who will be showcasing snacks, wearables, soaps, seasoning, meats and more.  

On select days, entrepreneurs will also be setting up sampling stations, so anyone who stops by can get a taste of their product. Some artisan businesses will also be crafting their wares live on site. 

“Every year, our store is a big hit with the crowds. Everyone loves trying some popcorn or watching jewelry being made,” said GROW Nebraska CEO Janell Anderson Ehrke. “This provides a great opportunity for our members to form new relationships and get exposure for their brands.”

The goal of this year’s store is to generate more than $150,000 worth of sales for these businesses, a boon to their Q3 quotas and a banging start to the holiday shopping season. 

All products featured at the Buy Nebraska store will also be available at the website, so the products sampled or seen at the event can be enjoyed well beyond the State Fair. 

“For many of these businesses, eCommerce is the area where they have the most potential for growth,” said GROW Product Marketing Coordinator Clarissa Feldman. “We’re getting dozens of orders every day for our members through our ecommerce site, as well as Amazon and eBay.”

By the year 2040, 95% of all purchases will be facilitated by eCommerce, according to research from NASDAQ. It’s GROW Nebraska’s goal to make sure its member businesses are ahead of that curve. 

As an educational 501c3, GROW Nebraska strives to provide both marketing opportunities like the state fair store, as well as business training opportunities. A purchase at the store not only directly supports the business who made the product, but also helps GROW provide educational opportunities like its annual MarkeTech Conference, monthly webinars and one-on-one training. 

“Our goal is to help these business owners make a sustainable living, no matter where they live in the state,” Anderson Ehrke said. “The state fair store is a step toward that goal for them, but we’re doing whatever we can to help these entrepreneurs all year long.”

Questions about the GROW Nebraska Foundation or its Buy Nebraska store can be directed to


Hughes Strives to Make Road to Success Easier For Entrepreneurs

Hughes Strives to Make Road to Success Easier For Entrepreneurs

Hughes Strives to Make Road to Success Easier For Entrepreneurs

When Cheryl Hughes began HR Poppin’ Snacks more than 20 years ago, she encountered a steep learning curve. Not only was she learning how to make the best quality popcorn, but she also had to learn all aspects of snack food manufacturing and wholesale.

At about the same time, GROW Nebraska also started with the intent to help educate and promote businesses just like hers. Cheryl joined as one of GROW’s first members.

“There was always a learning experience, good exposure and good advertising,” Cheryl said of GROW. “They have done a great job for me.”

HR Poppin’ Snacks grew into a successful business that now pops more than 20,000 pounds of popcorn seeds annually from its store in Gibbon and sells popcorn in more than 135 flavors in stores around the county.

Cheryl has maintained her GROW membership the entire time, and she continues to give back to GROW through mentoring and giving advice to other members. And her giving doesn’t just stop with members.

Entrepreneurs have traveled to Gibbon from as far away as Brazil, Paris and Nigeria to visit HR Poppin’ Snacks to learn how to produce quality popcorn for their business ventures. Cheryl gladly shares her knowledge with anyone who asks without charging consulting fees.

“If I can help somebody with a leg up, then I do,” she said. “I learned the hard way because I didn’t have someone in the know to mentor me. Now, I have the benefit of the knowledge so I want to share with others to make their road to success a little easier.”

Cheryl and her husband, Gary, are adamant about using their business to help others. That philosophy started with the naming of their business nearly 20 years ago. The HR in the name stands for ‘Heavenly Reason.’

At least 10 percent of their earnings go to charity or someone in need, whether it’s donating popcorn gift baskets to local fundraisers or giving popcorn away to those serving in the military.

“This has happened by the grace of God, and we need to give back,” Cheryl said.

GROW Nebraska CEO Janell Anderson-Ehrke said Cheryl donates all of her mentoring services to pay it forward, which makes a huge difference for many business owners.

“She’s easily touched more than 100 businesses we’ve worked with,” Janell said.

In the early days of GROW, Chery helped set up a retail store in Grand Island and later launched the UPC program to help GROW members sell their products on sites like Amazon. Members who sell just one or two products can save money by buying into GROW’s UPC numbers instead of spending hundreds of dollars to purchase their own UPC number.

When GROW members ask about product labeling, Cheryl is their source for answers.

New GROW Nebraska member Karen Ogelsby, owner of MoKa’s Kitchen, recently relied on help from Cheryl with labeling her popcorn for sale during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Karen thought her business would be “dead in the water” when COVID-19 hit. Her business previously provided artisan and gourmet popcorn for special events. When the special events stopped, so did her business. Chery helped Karen find a distributor to make her popcorn products available in stores, where shoppers were still flocking to buy snacks during the pandemic. MoKa’s Kitchen popcorn is now in 50 locations across the state.

Janell said she is grateful for members like Cheryl who give back and wants to celebrate her and others.

“I don’t want to forget where we came from,” Janell said. “It’s been GROW and a whole bunch of people and members who just kept giving back.”

Cheryl said she’s always lived with the philosophy that there’s always enough business to go around. She’s not worried about helping her potential competitors.

“If I continue to make a quality product and do my business well, I shouldn’t have any problems,” she said.

Cheryl encourages anyone who is considering starting a business or developing a product to contact GROW Nebraska.

“There are lots of ways that GROW Nebraska can help,” she said.

One of the biggest benefits, Cheryl said, is the annual MarkeTech conference, which she has attended every year it has been offered.

“It’s a great benefit, and any member that I work with I encourage them to attend MarkeTech,” she said. “It’s well-organized, provides good networking opportunities and education. I encourage anyone in the state, even if you aren’t a member of GROW Nebraska, to participate in MarkeTech.”

The 2021 MarkeTech conference is scheduled for Thursday, July 15, in Kearney. For more information, visit To sign up for the GROW newsletter to stay informed on upcoming trainings, visit here.

With holiday popcorn sales just wrapping up, Cheryl said she is preparing to launch new popcorn flavors soon.

Story by Kristine Jacobson, GROW Nebraska member and owner of KRJ Public Relations, a business that specializes in helping non-profits and other businesses tell their stories and gain momentum through blogs, newsletters, annual reports, social media and other publications.

Simplify Holiday Shopping with GROW Nebraska Gift Boxes

Simplify Holiday Shopping with GROW Nebraska Gift Boxes

Simplify Holiday Shopping with

GROW Nebraska Gift Boxes

Whether your holiday shopping list includes family, friends, neighbors or business clients, there’s something for everyone at GROW Nebraska®. And, purchasing themed gift baskets from GROW or its members makes your shopping convenient and shows your support of entrepreneurs across the state.

GROW Nebraska® gift boxes or baskets can be ordered in any price range from $20 to $150+ and can include any of more than 3,500 GROW Nebraska® products from soaps and lotions to popcorn and t-shirts. You can design your own package, including the container or box. Or, if that seems too overwhelming, the GROW Nebraska® staff are happy to give suggestions and design the package for you.

Last year and again this year, GROW Nebraska® has the new option to personalize gift boxes (through Jayhawk Boxes) and can customize boxes with company logos and/or receivers’ names.

And while gift box orders increase during the holiday season, any time of year is a great time for made-in-Nebraska gifts.

Lincoln Realtor Johanna Rhoads, ReMAX Real Estate Concepts, wanted a more unique gift to give to her real estate clients this year.

Her husband, Adam, manages the non-profit organization Mystic Rhoads Productions Inc. and is a member of GROW Nebraska. He sells products like Jamaican Jerk Seasoning and Dirt Nap Dip Habanero Pepper Sauce to raise money for community causes.

“My wife always gives a gift to her clients,” Adam said. “The gifts were run-of-the-mill gifts from corporate businesses, and she asked me if I would come up with a more creative and personal gift to give to clients. We decided to put together themed baskets that feature Nebraska-made products.”

They chose three themes – coffee, wine and kitchen – and grouped items together to create unique gifts. The coffee basket includes handmade coffee cups made in Lincoln, corn tea (GROW member), a gift card to a local coffee shop and locally made toffee. The kitchen basket includes a Nebraska-shaped cutting board made in Lincoln, Mystic Rhoads Productions hot sauces and seasonings (GROW member) and Duck Fat Cooking Spray (GROW member). The wine basket includes a bottle of wine, RCK Creations wine glasses (GROW member), Mystic Rhoads Productions seasonings (GROW member) and locally made toffee.

Adam said Johanna has given out nearly 50 baskets this year, and they have been well received.

Other GROW Nebraska members, such as The Basket Case in Kearney and the From Nebraska Gift Store in Lincoln’s historic Haymarket also offer gift-basket services for holidays or other occasions.

With the holiday season quickly approaching, it’s important to order gift boxes soon. One customer has already pre-ordered 150 Nebraska-product gift boxes, so the store will be busy with gift boxes throughout the holiday season!

To order gift baskets:

From GROW Nebraska: or call the store at (308) 338-3520 or email

The Basket Case:

From Nebraska Gift Store:

“By buying with GROW, the majority of each sale goes directly back into the pocket of entrepreneurs in our very own state,” said GROW’s Executive Director Janell Anderson Ehrke. “When you buy local, you are helping dreams come true for your neighbors. There’s no better gift than that!”

GROW Nebraska® Foundation is a statewide non-profit training and marketing organization. Serving over 400 Nebraska small businesses, the organization provides marketing opportunities, education, and training to launch and connect Nebraska businesses to the global marketplace. GROW Nebraska’s educational programs receive federal and state funding, along with generous support from foundations and individual donors.

Innovation Center Gives GROW Nebraska Members New Marketing Opportunities

Innovation Center Gives GROW Nebraska Members New Marketing Opportunities

Innovation Center Gives GROW Nebraska Members New Marketing Opportunities

Pouring the footings for the new addition.

Outside building complete including double entry doors.

What is SEO, and how do I use it in my business? How do I purchase Google AdWords to promote my new product? I have a new idea, but I’m not sure how to test the market to see if it will sell. I want my products to look professional on my website, but I don’t have the greatest photography skills.

These are all questions and services that GROW Nebraska staff can answer and provide. And, in the near future, these answers and services will become even more accessible with the new GROW Nebraska E-Commerce and Marketing Innovation Center.

“We are so excited to offer this new dedicated space for training and learning opportunities to our members,” GROW CEO Janell Anderson Ehrke said. “Very few small business owners have the time or resources to become experts in one field let alone three: retail, wholesale and electronic. This new innovation center is the answer to the needs of these business owners.”

The new innovation center is under construction at GROW’s new Buy Nebraska retail location, 421 W. Talmadge Road No. 1, in Kearney. The new space is attached to the east side of the store and will allow for a dedicated space for shipping, photography, member training and collaboration. It will improve efficiency and allow for more privacy for business owners working on ideas with GROW staff.

The new space will also give members even more tools to grow their businesses from photography assistance to social media strategies and more.

With the addition of the innovation center, GROW Nebraska plans to add to its task force of proven experts in the following areas:

Strategy: Assistance with Google advertising, social media campaigns, new product development and content writing, as well as strategic “big picture” planning.

User Experience: GROW will help members create a pleasing online shopping experience for their customers.

Web Analytics: Help business owners understand web analytics and make decisions about growth and improvements based on real data.

Innovation Management: Help members monitor new marketplace technologies and implement pilot projects with new listings and ideas and assist in product development and market testing so members can “test drive” products before placing them in the global marketplace.

Online Marketing: Help members understand Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing, develop sector-specific SEO and Google AdWords tools for members and offer operational advice about the optimum structures and processes in online marketing.

Mobile: Assistance in developing apps and services for mobile devices and advice on m-commerce (mobile commerce) strategies.

The new innovation center should be complete and operational during the first quarter of 2019.

The innovation center received a boost with a $100,000 two-year grant from the Peter Kiewit Foundation and is seeking more grants and private donations help with its funding.

If you would like more information about the GROW Nebraska E-Commerce and Marketing Innovation Center from a business perspective, or if you would like to donate, please contact Janell at or GROW’s Business Development Director Kristi Gargan at

Gargan Hired as Business Development Director for GROW Nebraska

Gargan Hired as Business Development Director for GROW Nebraska

Gargan Hired as Business Development Director for GROW Nebraska

OXFORD – Kristi Gargan has been hired as GROW Nebraska’s new Business Development Director.

Gargan started work for GROW in August and will be recruiting new members and sponsors, offering social media trainings, raising funds and organizing educational events. She will also at times work at GROW Nebraska’s BUY Nebraska store that recently moved from the Hilltop Mall in Kearney to the Younes Campus in Kearney.

Gargan is originally from South Sioux City, Neb., and graduated from the University of Nebraska at Kearney with a degree in business administration. She has lived in Kearney for 14 years.

Previously, she worked at Buzz’s Marine as the marketing director. She has also worked at Zyantus Inc. (formerly EClaims) and at SCORR Marketing in event planning, marketing and communications.

“For the last 14 years, delivering massive value to my clients has been the focus of my career,” Gargan said. “What better clients than from my home state? Therefore, I was intrigued with the opportunity to mesh my assets with GROW Nebraska’s needs.”

Gargan said she is excited to work closely with GROW Nebraska CEO Janell Anderson Ehrke to become the second face of GROW Nebraska.

“Janell has accomplished so much in the last 20 years, and I am hoping my areas of expertise complement hers so that GROW Nebraska can continue to expand,” Gargan said.

Gargan and her husband, John, have two daughters, Reese, 6, and Maci, 3. When she’s not working or taking care of the family, Gargan enjoys playing on several adult volleyball leagues. She also enjoys cooking.

GROW Nebraska is an educational non-profit organization headquartered in Oxford that empowers entrepreneurs through business training, technical assistance, promotion and market opportunities. It provides education and training to individuals and small business owners across Nebraska, with an emphasis on economically depressed areas, to create sustainable economic development and marketing opportunities. GROW is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2018.