More than 130 people attended the Thayer County Economic Development Alliance banquet, including honorary guest Sen. Tom Brandt and keynote speaker Richard Baier, president and CEO of the Nebraska Bankers’ Association, at the Stastny Community Center June 16, which was a networking effort to bring the county together, TCEDA Executive Director Carley Bruning said.
“This was truly a county-wide event,” Bruning said. “We had great representation from a handful of communities, businesses and foundations.” City and village officials in the county also attended.
During his address, Baier focused on successes in the county, such as commute time, quality of life, a healthy graduation rate and above average scores for college preparation, and shone a light on some of the challenges, like an aging workforce, population decline, and child care, an issue TCEDA is currently working on.
“Our mission is to find solutions for our challenges, and hopefully those in attendance will contact our organization and want to help,” Bruning said. “We don’t have to do this alone and that’s why TCEDA was created.”
She added attendance at the banquet exceeded her expectation.
The evening also saw the first Thriving in Thayer County Award presented. Free Day Popcorn just north of Byron was selected to receive the award that celebrates a successful business in the county.
“We based it off their growth and tenacity to go after clients. They don’t wait for the customer to come to them,” Bruning said.
Free Day Popcorn was started in 2015 by Nate and Stacey Freitag who returned to the Freitag family farm near Byron from Pennsylvania. Lonny Frietag, Nate’s father had grown popcorn for more than three decades.
Freitag translates to Friday or Free Day, and the Freitags thought Free Day was a way to connect back to family history.
Nate Freitag credits wife Stacey for her marketing and sales skills.
“We knew how to grow it,” Nate said. “That was the easy part. Finding a market is harder. When you’re growing it yourself, you have to find people that want it and develop those relationships. You have to have the persistence to keep going and keep asking.”
They haven’t been stuck with product they are unable to sell, either.
“If you go to a ball game at Thayer Central or Deshler, or Republic County or Superior, you’re eating our popcorn,” Nate said. Majestic Theatre also sells Free Day, along with theaters in Belleville and Beloit, Kansas.
Nate also said Free Day works with local agronomists and trucking companies.
“Buying product from us supports a lot of local businesses,” Nate said. “It’s been a real honor to be recognized as one of the best businesses in the county.”
The award presented to Free Day was designed by Art Whitton of Chester Designs.
Free Day was also popped at the TCEDA banquet, courtesy of Bruning Bank and Majestic Theatre. Blue Bison designed the table centerpieces.
Bruning said TCEDA looks forward to celebrating businesses every year.
In addition to child care, the Alliance is focusing on workforce development, housing and broadband. Bruning assists in leading the broadband action team that is coordinating connectivity to the internet in Thayer County.