Following a series of introductory hemp meetings across the region, the East Colorado Small Business Development Center is offering a more in-depth, comprehensive two-day training program to help serious producers put together a successful business plan for launching a hemp-related enterprise.

The agenda will take producers on a deep dive into agronomics, labor requirements, risk management, financing, marketing and business planning.

"We want to make sure producers have the knowledge and connections to be successful," said program coordinator Andrew Schroeder, who grew up in the Arkansas Valley. "There's a myth out there that this is a 'green rush' and everyone who gets in will make a lot of money, but that's just not the case."

The program covers the history of the hemp industry, current status of markets and regulations, different types of products that can be derived from hemp and various options for obtaining conventional or creative financing.

But what sets the course apart is how it concludes.

"We go into a full business planning presentation on how to create a business plan and establish goals for a new hemp business," Schroeder said. "At the end of the course there will be a financial analysis review. This is an opportunity to work one-on-one with a local business consultant, who will test out the feasibility of your plan."

The Center will host the first of these two-day "Harnessing Hemp" courses at Aims Community College in Ft. Lupton on Jan. 17-18.

"Both of our organizations recognize the swift advancements being made within industrial hemp, the increasing interest from numerous parties and the potential economic impact," said Lisa Hudson, the Center's executive director. "This will be the first course of its kind for Eastern Colorado, and we have a great team of industry experts ready to present."

Aims is the first community college in the state to offer an industrial hemp course. Instructor Kirk Goble travels frequently statewide and nationally speaking about the crop.

He will do so again on Jan. 28 during the Colorado Farm Show in Greeley, where he will conduct a morning overview on "hemp happenings" and moderate a producer panel on "lessons learned" that same afternoon.

In addition to the workshop in Ft. Lupton, the Center is hosting a second "Harnessing Hemp" workshop March 6-7 at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.

Registration is $250, which includes a course workbook and other printed materials as well as meals and refreshments.

Attendees are encouraged to register online, which they can do right up until the workshop starts, and registration will also be available at the door.

Registration and more information is available at https://eastcoloradosbdc.com.

"One of our partners, Start-up Colorado, is providing ten scholarships for the event, which could be used to waive the registration cost entirely," Schroeder added. "The information on that is also available on our website."

East Colorado is one of several regional small business development centers around the state, but it is the first to offer comprehensive hemp programming.

The interest it has generated has captured the attention of other centers within the network, which includes an office in La Junta, Schroeder said.

He estimated that around 150 producers attended the introductory series, including some who traveled from as far away as the San Luis Valley and from Nebraska, as well as those involved in related industries like banking or insurance who were interested in learning more to better serve their clients.

"With the success we've seen, we've had a lot of interest from other centers about hosting something like this in their area," he said. "We're also discussing the potential for a live-stream type of thing. We want to expand on this."

Colorado officials have vowed to make the state a leader as the rapidly evolving hemp industry takes shape. For now, many questions remain.

According to a national survey of 10,000 hemp producers, published last October by Portland State University, less than half of the acreage licensed for growing hemp in 2019 was actually harvested and only 35 percent of growers surveyed had found a buyer for their crop. The CBD, or cannabinoid, market has also reportedly dropped significantly over the past six months, according to some reports.

"There's still lots of uncertainty out there," Schroeder said. "That's why we want to provide a solid foundation for producers to be successful."