Workshop #8
March 26-27, 2009

What are the characteristics that comprise an effective leader? Participants in the eighth NSLW Workshop in Blair on March 26 and 27 expressed a common interest in identifying and cultivating a stronger, larger pool of civic leaders. Too much work, they said, now rests on the shoulders of too few viable leaders in Nebraska’s villages, towns and cities.

A new generation of committed, talented, caring, and smart leaders is a common “wish list” priority among Nebraska leaders who have attended NSLW workshops across the state, and the workshop in Blair was no exception.

Good leaders, workshop attendees said, are careful listeners, passionate and compassionate, and visionary. They understand and respect both short-term and long-term goals and planning, and they are organized, principled, open-minded and flexible. Effective leaders are people who stand up for their convictions and who are decisive. Mary Ferdig, facilitator of the workshop, asked about the importance of getting more and diverse people involved in civic affairs.

“We’d like to get more people involved” in governing and leadership, said Cynthia Petersen, Oakland City Clerk and Treasurer. David Genoways, Mayor of Fort Calhoun, agreed. “We rarely have interested citizens attend City Council meetings. It seems like the only people who come are those who have a specific complaint,” he said, and most participants agreed with him.

“Democracy takes effort,” said Lyle Schjodt, Washington County Planning Commission member. Carl Lorenzen, President of the Blair Airport Authority and local agri-businessman, said, “It is hard work getting people to buy into and accept long-term planning and visionary ideas.”

Lorenzen and Cynthia Petersen talked about ways of attracting more people to civic meetings: local access television, webcasts and YouTube videos—using new technology to reach a younger citizen base. “And newspapers are so important to keeping people informed, although we are seeing a loss of newspapers around Nebraska,” Lorenzen said.

“We are concerned about doing things in the right way for the future. That is what sustainability leadership means to me,” Lorenzen added.

Patty Plugge, Executive Director of the Burt County Economic Development Corporation, said that with declining populations and job losses in many towns, it’s more important than ever to try to work toward more effective leadership and toward new and changing, but sustainable, visions of what we want our communities to be.

Ferdig spoke about the need for leaders to engage in “authentic conversation” and to “ground themselves in personal integrity.” “Sustainability leaders empower themselves to take responsibility,” she said, pointing out that it isn’t always elected or appointed leaders who effect change and growth in a community. Ferdig said that it is important to:

     •   understand that creative tensions hold the most potential for breakthrough thinking,
     •   recognize that outcomes unfold in complex dynamics,
     •   notice and attend to human dynamics of transformative change, and
     •   experiment, reflect, learn, adjust, and share.

Cliff Morrow, Burt County Commissioner and member of the Burt County Economic Development board, said, “Counties like Burt have to find their way—maybe a new way. Are we going to be a bedroom county or something else? The pressure to do things the way Washington County has done them is great. But we aren’t sure that that is what is best for Burt County.” And Lyle Schjodt said, “Is growing bigger always the right answer?”

Formulating a community’s identity in response to regional influences and growth was identified as a specific issue to be addressed on the second day of the workshop, as were ways of encouraging local entrepreneurship and finding innovative ways to revitalize communities.

Paula Hazlewood, Executive Director of Gateway Development Corporation; Lisa Hurley, Community Economic Development Coordinator for the Northeast Nebraska Economic Development District; and Tom Chapman, Director of Entrepreneurship and Innovation for the Greater Omaha Economic Development Partnership, talked to the group about understanding that small businesses have different needs than large, high-growth enterprises and how important it is to understand your businesses' markets and market logistics, among other things. Chapman said that failures are important in economic development, because through diligence and greater understanding, you build better, more sustainable business communities. Fostering entrepreneurial endeavors within a community can be one of the strongest moves a community can make for sustainability, they agreed.

Working with W. Cecil Steward, designer and leader of the workshops, one group of participants used Steward's EcoSTEP™ sustainability metrics tool to determine what might be Burt County's response to its regional context. The group determined that in terms of public policy, edcuation of policy-makers, a mechanism for routine planning and assessment, and assessment and enforcement of building codes and other ordinances were desirable.

Phil Green, Assistant City Administrator for Blair, suggested that encouraging telecommuting could be a big postiive factor for people in "bedroom" communities who regularly commute to desk jobs in other towns and cities, since it would both save on gasoline and would strengthen communities by having a daytime population there. Other technology-based solutions the group discussed were Wi-Fi and Internet accessibility and better cellular phone access.

Low-impact flood control - from both a local and regional perspective, along with the designation of no-build areas in pristine areas, and the development of parks and recreation areas were seen as important, as were entertainment activities, the development of community gardens and an outreach to community groups.

And, in terms of economics, this group determined that affordable, mixed housing development, a regional industrial plan, and job creation through business retention and expansion as well as business attraction, would be key factors.

The second group, taking Fort Calhoun as an example, used the EcoSTEP™ diagram to determine ways they might expand the economic vitality and take advantage of exisiting opportunities from within the regional context. Among the solutions discussed were retrofitting good existing housing stock, promoting and preserving current scenic, open, natural spaces and creating more green spaces and outdoor areas.

In terms of public policy, they decided that annual, regular reviews of comprehensive plans and implementation of aspects of the plan, like stormwater management, are crucial. Putting together a pool of local venture capital—"angel" capital—was one idea that surfaced, with the aim of attracting and nurturing entrepreneurs and their enterprises. The construction of affordable, starter homes and rent-to-own homes was another idea.

From a socio-cultural aspect, the group decided it would be important to capitalize on the town's historic features, and to develop storefronts for an array of healthcare providers, including dental and vision. And they discussed finding and encouraging businesses in which teens might be employed during after school and summer hours, and ensuring the city's schools are addressing the needs of young families.

Dr. Andrew Jameton, Professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, talked with the group about community gardening and the important roles it can play in bringing a community together, provide nutritious and delicious fresh foods, and a place where young people and children can both learn and feel a part of something greater. Jameton is one of the founders of City Sprouts, a community gardening program in Omaha. A link to his PowerPoint presentation is on the left side of this page, as well as on the Documents page.

Daniel Lawse, an energy efficiency expert with The Neighborhood Center in Omaha, talked to the group about the importance of understanding that alternatives to oil are critical to our survival as a nation. A link to his presentation is also on the left side of this page, as well as on the Documents page.

Click on the images to view an enlargement.

Resources from the
Blair 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 Blair workshop, as well as some who were not there.

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

Sustainable Local Food Systems: Best Practices, PowerPoint presentation by Dr. Andrew Jameton, College of Public Health, University of Nebraska Medical Center, and City Sprouts

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 specifically 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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