Jed Christensen was one of five boys raised on what he calls an “Old MacDonald” farm north of Columbus — one with chickens, cattle, pigs, a little bit of everything.
“Dad had a set of livestock to keep us out of trouble,” Christensen said.
Now he’s the owner of Commodity Solutions Inc., a data-driven commodities trading firm that also believes in educating producers on how to make sense of the market. As his company has grown over the past 14 years, he’s also given young people interested in the field an opportunity to make a living outside the big city and closer to their hometowns.
He attributes part of his current success to former Lakeview High School ag teacher Dean Folkers, who taught an entrepreneurship class.
“I guess I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart,” said Christensen.
After graduating from Lakeview in 1995, Christensen went to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied ag economics and ag education. He spent several years working as a grain merchandiser before starting his own company based in Humphrey.
Christensen had good timing. A few years after his company got off the ground in 2003, the ethanol boom sent commodity prices through the roof.
“The commodity boom probably helped our business,” he said. “A lot of ag business had some pretty good growth from 2006 to 2012.”
Now that prices have dropped, producers still rely on his team’s expertise to weather the tough times.
“There’s nothing anybody can do to change the cyclical nature of production agriculture,” he said. “When the margins are less, the decision-making becomes more important, and we help people make good, data-driven decisions.”
When it comes to market speculation, Christensen said a lot of advice and commentary is based on intuition. That's why he decided his company would focus on data.
“We compile a lot of data,” he said. “The majority of people make a lot of emotional marketing decisions and we tend to do better with the data.”
Another way he differentiated his company from others is by educating customers about the market.
“Any financial market has a degree of smoke and mirrors to them,” he said. “We try to take the time to help people understand the truths and the untruths, to try and help people understand fact from fiction in this business.”
“I’ve always felt that if you are honest, fair and you teach people how to use the tools that people will reward you with their business,” Christensen added.
That mentality is paying off.
Commodity Solutions moved its headquarters to Norfolk and currently has five locations in Nebraska and one in Iowa. The business serves customers in 15 states, as far away as North Carolina and Texas.
Another point of pride for Christensen is that he’s giving traders who grew up in rural areas a chance to continue working in that environment.
“Rather than working for a large grain company in Omaha, they have the opportunity to do that in Humphrey, Nebraska,” he said.
David Franzen with the Humphrey office grew up in Leigh and was living in Kearney when he was hired by Commodity Solutions.
“My wife and I both come from small communities with family that were close together,” he said. “When we started our family we quickly realized we would like to have our children enjoy that aspect of our family culture. And we had no family where we were at.”
He thought he'd have to move to Kansas City or Omaha to advance professionally.
“My wife and I had no interest in that,” said Franzen. “It was an opportunity of timing and circumstance that matched our desires perfectly.”
Another employee, Mitch Kwapnioski, grew up in Columbus and attended Scotus Central Catholic. Before being hired at Commodity Solutions a few months ago he was working as a trader in Omaha.
“I found myself coming home every weekend,” he said. “It became evident I wanted to come back to Columbus.”
In addition to having family and friends in his hometown, Kwapnioski is an outdoorsman, so the Columbus lifestyle suited him better than the big city.
At Commodity Solutions, he said he still feels like he’s doing something significant with his life.
“What I’m doing is not just impacting the local area around us,” he said. “What I do on a day-to-day basis, it’s much bigger.”
Christensen said the goal now is to expand the services offered at each Commodity Solutions location and look for additions to the team.
“I’d say at each location we have the ability to add another person or two if we find the right people,” he said. “We’ve had some good people on our team over the years, and good people in our business make the difference.”