U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, looks over a project by students (from left) Matthan Kots, Spencer Armstrong, Michael Hockom and Katie Logan during a youth enterprise academy held at the Carroll campus of Des Moines Area Community College.&nbsp;<span style="font-size: xx-small;"><em> Daily Times Herald photo by Jeff Storjohann</em></span>
U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, looks over a project by students (from left) Matthan Kots, Spencer Armstrong, Michael Hockom and Katie Logan during a youth enterprise academy held at the Carroll campus of Des Moines Area Community College.  Daily Times Herald photo by Jeff Storjohann
Chocolate jalapenos?

“If you serve that to me, do I have a choice if I can have the chocolate on the side?” U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, joked with entrepreneurial-minded middle-schoolers Wednesday morning in Carroll.

King spoke to two dozen students in Buzz on Biz, a Youth Enterprise Academy sponsored by the Iowa Small Business Development Centers and Des Moines Area Community College at the latter’s Carroll campus.

Students were working in groups to market products with a chocolate connection. One group of kids planned to market the chocolate jalapenos, much to the congressman’s delight.

King, a Kiron Republican, founded King Construction in 1975. King told the students he didn’t arrive in the halls of Congress from an Ivy League school and silver-spooned upbringing,

“I’m the exact opposite of that,” King said.

Growing up in Denison, a son of a police radio manager, King learned hard work, he said. He attended Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville  and worked in construction as a young man.

In 1975, King said he figured he possessed a net worth of minus-$5,000 — a fact that turned out to be life-changing.

His conclusion at the time: “My ship is not going to come in unless I go out there and build it.”

So he decided to start his own business. He had little to no equity to stand behind when working with local banks. Fortunately, King said, small bankers in Iowa put a premium on character. He said he had clients lined up in the construction business and could pay off the loans for equipment. The bankers believed him, King said.

“People understand when you’re genuine and when you’re real,” King said.

King offered some pointed advice to the young people — who came from the Carroll Community Schools, Kuemper Catholic Schools, Sioux City, Glidden-Ralston and Johnston.

If you don’t like the way people respond to you, King said, “don’t put up a front. Change who you are inside.”

King said there are down and up periods in small businesses, all of which build character. Enterpreneurs are constantly learning about themselves, so don’t ever accept the status quo or your current situation in life, King said.

“You don’t know what you have in you for potential,” King said. “Don’t think you’re just this package that is what you think are today.”

Spencer Armstrong, an eighth-grader at Carroll Middle School and a son of Michelle Glick, asked King if he was overwhelmed after first being elected to Congress in 2002.

“I’m somewhat used to overwhelming experiences,” King said.

King said his service as a state senator prepared him for the move to Washington.

The key to his success, King said, has been hard work.

“I wonder why I can’t pack more things into a minute,” King said.

Lisa Shimkat, regional director for the Iowa Small Business Development Centers, said King’s real-world insight helped provide the young people with context for their academy work.

“The Youth Entrepreneur Academy conducted by North Central Iowa Business Center and DMACC this week has been sensational,” said Carroll Area Development Corp., executive director Jim Gossett.

He said middle school students are learning how to start a business from local experts and a fantastic curriculum. Participants have created a product, financial and marketing plans.

Community leaders will join parents of the participants for the final presentation and judging at 3:15 p.m. Friday at the DMACC Carroll Campus, Room 142-146.