Team building is anything but ordinary in the central Kansas town of McPherson, where a local company uses horses to help groups achieve their corporate goals.
“We play games like horse soccer, which means that groups have a horse that they use as the soccer ball, but they aren’t allowed to touch the horse to get it to the goal,” said Linda Helmer, owner/director of Carousel Live, an equine-assisted team building company. “Since they can’t force the horse to move, they have to develop skills like assertiveness, problem solving and leadership to reach the goal. These are all strengths that are needed in the workplace.”
According to Helmer, groups like those from the local National Cooperative Refinery Association are completely safe during these team building activities, as both an equine expert and team building expert are with them at all times.
Innovation is not unusual in McPherson. Back in 1887, the new city made a bold yet unsuccessful bid to become the state capital by platting a 160-acre capitol hill. After McPherson became a railroad hub, oil was discovered nearby, saving the local economy from the Great Depression and luring manufacturing industries, which today number 57.
Meeting planners are drawn to this forward-thinking town of 14,000 by its location near Interstates 35 and 70, as well as its multiple meeting venues. These facilities include the 109-room Best Western Holiday Manor, with 4,640 square feet of meeting space, and the 88-room Econolodge, which is adjacent to the newly remodeled, 5,220-square-foot Perkins Restaurant convention facility. Groups of up to 40 can also meet in the new 76-room Holiday Inn Express and Suites.
“We target a wide variety of meetings, including association and agriculture-based groups of up to 300 people,” said Anne Hassler, director of the McPherson CVB. “Some 80 members of the Kansas Flying Farmers held their annual three-day convention here in March, and one of their events was a tour of the McPherson College Auto Restoration Program, the only accredited four-year degree [program] in automotive restoration in the United States.”
The Flying Farmers’ 45-minute narrated trolley tour of the city included the circa-1888 McPherson Opera House. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the do
wntown Victorian structure is undergoing extensive renovation due to be completed in January.
“The Opera House has a grand ballroom that can accommodate 90 people, two meeting rooms that can each hold 50 participants, and will soon have seating for 550 in the restored auditorium,” said Hassler. “We also hold many receptions at the Cedars Conference Center, which features two banquet halls that can be combined to hold 250 people, and at the 80-capacity Lakeside Cabin at Lakeside Park.”
Located on the Kansas prairie, McPherson offers weekend tram tours in the summertime to the nearby 2,800-acre Maxwell Wildlife Refuge, home to 200 bison and 50 elk. Special programs on topics like wildflowers or bird life, as well as campfire meals, can be arranged.