Workshop #7
March 12-13, 2009

Enterprising ideas to attract and retain a young workfoce can provide a catalyst for finding solutions to other issues cities and towns in Nebraska face. A wealth of ideas and resolutions were discussed at the seventh NSLW Workshop in Beatrice on March 12 and 13.

Dale Crawford, Mayor of Wymore, echoed the concerns of some participants: "We are having to spend $4 million on wastewater issues in Wymore. Yet we have empty storefronts. We have only four or five people in leadership positions, doing everything."

Creating a milieu in which younger, more effective leadership is encouraged and grows out of a more vibrant business community seems to be critical key. Crawford said, "We seem to be missing opportunties in our communities, often because change is scary to most people."

Joe Carbonneau, Mayor of Chester, a village of 294 in Thayer County, painted a stark picture of his town: "Declining population is a main issue for Chester. Our future is bleak. Kids are leaving, and 10 to 15 years down the road, we might not be there."

Milan Wall, co-founder of the Heartland Center, identified four critical issues facing smaller communities in Nebraska: an out-migration of young people, declining businesses, declining number of dollars that are provided to smaller communities, and a waning pool of community leaders.

But Nebraska's rural cities, towns, and villages are places are places of great opportunity, if viewed through the prism of sustainability, Wall pointed out.

"Half of the towns in Nebraska have 400 people or less," Wall said. "There is a national study that says any county with less than 50,000 people and any community outside of a fifty-mile stretch is doomed. Well, we have a number of communities that are defying this pronouncement. One example defying this is Ninsel, population 12. This town has established a meeting center and a heritage museum through grants. Broken Bow another exception, too. And Nebraska has many exceptions.

"It is what leaders say and do that makes a difference," Wall advised. "Sustainability leaders promote asset-based community development."

Clean air, low to nonexistent crime, a relatively low cost of living, a family-friendly neighborhood atmosphere, and, especially, ample entrepreneurial and leadership opportunities, are all attractive aspects of Nebraska towns. And some of the towns represented at the Columbus workshop have no problem with empty storefronts or retaining a vital workforce, but face other issues of economic development or inequities in how their cities are treated vis-a-vis the state's biggest metropolitan areas.

"So how do we maximize, solve multiple problems at one time?" posited facilitator Jay Leighter.

Jim Crandall, of the Nebraska Cooperative Development Center, which helps facilitate group ownership of businesses throughout rural Nebraska, offered community food systems as just one key.

"The population of Beatrice spends $12 million annually on food," he said. "If local food producers could capture just 1 percent of that market, that's $120,000 a year."

Crandall pointed out that local foods are a resource that already exists in every town in Nebraska. "If food is grown locally and sold locally, you have a potentially safer food supply as well as added value to both the community, in terms of local revenues, but you also have a healthier population, which also keeps health care costs down." He pointed out that more than 54,000 pounds of ground beef from local farms could be used in local schools for lunches twice a month, August through May.

In addition, locally-produced food products can be marketed to a much larger customer base by using the Internet and other distribution chains, and cooperation among towns in a given county or region can produce exponentially larger revenues and markets, creating more jobs and more local stability and sustainability.

Education is another key. Rod Rhodes, of Southeast Community College, said, "My goal is to help high school kids to become career-ready and to help students get a sense of the issues in the 15 county region as they look to enter the workforce."

Partnerships between local businesses and schools can be mutually beneficial, he said.

Daniel Lawse, Energy Outreach Associate with the Neighborhood Center, said that another key to economic development as well as development and retention of a young, vital workforce is energy efficiency.

As participants worked through an exercise on how a town might attract and keep a young, vital workforce to engender economic development, they came up with a number of possible ideas, along with investing in high tech communications capabilities and housing:

    •    Train students to do energy audits, with succession planning, so that this becomes a community staple. The benefits include training and jobs, lower energy costs for residents and businesses, and a "greener" community, which helps attract young people and business.
    •    Consider establishing a business incubator in some empty building(s). Work with regional community college as a partner. Expand this to a regional endeavor after initial success.
    •    Train students to engage in rainwater retention and stormwater best practices at their schools, local hardware stores benefit. If rainwater retention and stormwater best practices are inculcated in the students, then their parents might start practicing it as well, which will save water locally, encourage green areas, and discourage runoff issues and erosion.
    •    Use empty space to retrofit a combined senior/youth center. Take an old school building to combine the populations. Develop a mentor program. Encourage gardens, shared kitchens and activities. Get commitment beforehand. This would be intergenerational connection with purposeful activity.
    •    Address dilapidated buildings. Identify and deconstruct houses and buildings. Engage local contractors and carpenters and run a team of six high school students. Establish a regional store that resells architectural salvage items from the old buildings.

Terri Dageford, Executive Director of the Gage County Economic Development corporation, said, "There was a study recently polling around 250 people who had left Nebraska. Eighty percent said they would return to Nebraska if they could find an equivalent to their existing job." Technology helps. She talked about a western goods provider near Valentine. "When this gentleman found he wasn’t doing enough business, he took it online, and is now one of the largest providers in the country," she said.

Marcy Bauer, Environmental Health Manager for the PHS District Health Department, said, "I understand how our existing economic base is agriculture, and it's important to acknowledge that and utilize it, but it's also important to become more progressive by moving beyond the mono-culture approach and diversifying. That diversification could start with our crop base. We need to build community connections with youth while they are here and integrate partnerships with youth and local businesses." Bauer mentioned that Waterbury, Iowa, is a success story in this regard.

Don Trimm, of the Fairbury City Council, said they've been helped with the hiring of a city administrator and outreach to the community at large. "We need to get input from our constituents. I put up a web page. Communication is key," he said.

Dan Kral, Milford City Councilman, said, "We could solve many problems if we had twice as many job opportunities as we do today. We do have a good relationship with our schools. But as leaders, we need to help people develop a more positive attitude towards change. Repetition can be key, even if it takes five times, they will come around with exposure."

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Resources from the
Beatrice Workshop

Most of the workshop materials can be downloaded from our Resources and Documents pages. Below are some materials specifically from the consultants and speakers at the Beatrice workshop, as well as some who were not there.

Below, you can download the presentations from two expert consultants who attended the Beatrice workshop.

Community Food Systems, PowerPoint presentation by Jim Crandall, Associate Director of the Nebraska Cooperataive Development Center, Nebraska’s center for cooperative-based business development. The UNL-based agency provides education, training, and technical assistance to cooperatively-owned businesses, including cooperatives, LLCs, and other business structures.

Energy: How Our Future Will Look Different and What We Can Do About It, PowerPoint presentation by Daniel Lawse, Energy Outreach Associate for the Neighborhood Center, a UNO-based organization which provides information and assistance to neighborhood associations to enable them to come together and develop their own leadership and decision-making structure and effectively address the issues affecting the quality of life in their communities.

Click here to link to a video of W. Cecil Steward's presentation on The Five Domains of Sustainability and the EcoSTEP™ tool for measuring sustainability.

Many participants were interested in affordable housing issues, which was not addressed at the workshop. Steve Peregrine, of the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority, provided these contacts for participants:

Community and Rural Development Division
Nebraska Department of Economic Development
Lara Huskey, Director
Paula Rhian, Housing Coordinator

Nebraska Investment Finance Authority
Steve Peregrine, Deputy Director
Community Investments
Jackie Young, Manager
Single Family Program

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