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Junior Achievement’s Biz Town Booms

Junior Achievement’s Biz Town Booms

Engaging students From Playground to Paycheck


Throughout the day, employees are busy working, socializing and learning. They cash checks, take lunch breaks and run their respective companies. And although these industrious workers represent many different businesses, they all have one thing in common: They’re fifth graders.


The bustling business center where these tiny professionals can be found is BizTown, an ongoing educational program created by academic nonprofit Junior Achievement. JA’s BizTown is a fully immersive and interactive simulation, allowing grade-school kids to step into the shoes of adult citizens on the job.


In Alachua County alone, 20 schools and 1,900 fifth-grade students participated in BizTown in the 2022-2023 school year. They are closing in on 5,000 total by the end of next year.


“I have the best job in the world,” said Shannon McNicholas, district program manager for Alachua’s iteration of BizTown.


Hosted by Gainesville’s Cade Museum since 2019, the sim-city center is coming up on five years of operation.


“Everybody’s learning, everybody’s happy. The students are just so excited to be there.”


The program both engages and challenges students. They are presented with real-world scenarios designed to develop their skills and prep them for their future professional and personal lives. Critical thinking, decision-making, teamwork, time management and problem-solving become ingrained as they participate in the program.


“We’re dedicated to empowering children and setting them up for a successful tomorrow,” McNicholas said. “We foster financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship skills.”


BizTown was not built overnight. Preparation for the big day at BizTown starts in the classroom, where teachers conduct a series of 12 lessons to build the students’ foundation, with topics covering everything from basic economic concepts to learning how to write a check.

The students then get to apply for their career.


“Part of the training is that the students get to apply for the jobs they want,” McNicholas said. “They learn about the different businesses and apply for either the CEO, CFO or other employee jobs, and then the teacher makes the decision.”


At the beginning of the BizTown experience, a mayor (elected by the students) opens the business day with a speech at the morning town meeting. The kids then disperse to their various places of business to start their work.


The CEOs supervise the operations, while the CFO works on the company’s payroll. The other employees handle customer service, production, marketing and sales. With each enterprise having a different, designated lunch and break time, the kids have an opportunity to visit, explore and purchase from the other businesses in town. Community interaction is a key aspect of BizTown.

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“The students interact with fellow citizens, visiting other businesses as customers, engaging in civic activities and supporting the local economy,” McNicholas said.


JA’s BizTown is a microcosm of Greater Gainesville. All the companies and stores represented in the program are sponsors and based on real Alachua County businesses. The Campus USA Credit Union office is next door to Publix; down the hall is UF Health and Koss Olinger.


“A lot of the parents volunteer, and at the end of the day, you can see them tell their parents, ‘Mom, I understand now why you get so stressed shopping at Publix!’” McNicholas said. “It’s the little things like that that are really cool to see.”


Kid-Preneur Businesses 

These eager entrepreneurs founded their businesses while they were only kids.


  1. Aline Morse (7) – Zolli Candy
  2. Mikaila Ulmer (4) – Me & the Bees Lemonade
  3. Maya Penn (8) – Maya’s Ideas
  4. Moziah Bridges (9) – Mo’s Bows
  5. Cory Nieves (6) – Mr. Cory’s Cookies



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