Workshop #19
Broken Bow
March 11-12, 2010

Broken Bow, Callaway, Loup City, Arnold, Ansley and other towns in the center of the state have been working hard to nurture their local resources, maintain their economic base, and seek new ways to encourage growth in a sustainable way.

Unlike some other parts of the state, this area deep in the Sandhills has recently seen a number of young people and families returning to their hometowns, helping to sustain growth. How to engage and energize this resource to enhance the vitality of the towns and the region became one topic of lively discussion at the 19th Nebraska Sustainability Leadership Workshop in Broken Bow in March.

"We have a good foundation to build on here," said David Birnie, general manager of KCNI and KBBN Radio and a member of the Broken Bow Planning and Zoning Board. "Towns like Ansley and Broken Bow have a good number of young people coming back, and I think there's an opportunity now to engage and energize them" to take part in our civic life and help build the vitality and viability of the community.

Broken Bow Mayor Reynold "Mac" McMeen agreed. "Our demographics have changed," McMeen said. "We have to motivate the 35- to 45-year-olds to take pride in the community. Building the community takes teamwork, and we need these younger folks to be part of the team."

Paul Bartlett, Regional Director of the USDA Community Development office in Kearney, asked, "How do you build a coalition and how do you keep it going, sustain momentum?"

"We want to build coalitions locally," said Joan Birnie, Director of the Broken Bow Public Library. "Coalitions are crucial to being able to sustain those things in our community that are important." She and Mayor McMeen helped to start Green Broken Bow, a coalition inspired by the Green Omaha Coalition and the Lincoln Green by Design, groups that are working to influence governmental, private enterprise, community organizations and individuals to adopt more sustainable policies and practices.

Shirley Trout, President of the Callaway Chamber of Commerce, agreed. "We are trying to develop the next generation of leaders," she said. "Meanwhile, we need to get the word out about our assets, the great things we've been doing in our town to attract and engage younger residents to become that next generation of leaders." She suggested that using 21st technology "to get the word out" through social networks, blogs and websites could be effective.

Broken Bow City Administrator Tony Toldstedt noted that Mid Plains Community College now has an "extended campus" in Broken Bow, something that could bring new, younger residents to the community, and they're hoping that will grow.

With a better educated populace come better jobs and wages, and, Toldstedt said, that can be a mixed blessing. "For example, in Alliance, the average income is higher than in surrounding communities," he said, "and with their added income, they travel to Scottsbluff to shop." That's a problem for local merchants in Alliance, he said. "The competition between municipal entities," said Tolstedt, "can be fierce." And, participants agreed, that supporting local entrepreneurs and local businesses is one way to build a sustainable community.

Joan Birnie and Shirley Trout said that energy audits and energy efficiency and community food systems could be ways to build on local entrepreneurship. Deb McCaslin, publisher of the Custer County Chief newspaper, agreed. "Sustainability is something the homesteaders knew about. We can learn some lessons from them."

April Gross, Customer Solutions Team Leader for Custer Public Power District in Broken Bow, said that educating people about energy use and efficiency is a major hurdle. "We're tying to educate people about what heppens when they turn the light switch on," she said. "We encourage people to adopt more energy efficiency stratgies."

Mayor McMeen said, "We really need to keep our electrical rates down. We need to get control of our energy projects." Daniel Lawse, Energy expert and Coordinator of Sustainable Practices at Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, talked about the importance of energy audits and making existing structures more energy efficient. Those two initiatives, he said, can not only save a community millions of dollars, but can be a source of "green jobs". Lawse told the group about peak oil theories and about how various alternative energy strategies can or cannot be effective.

And Jim Crandall, Program Coordinator of the Nebraska Cooperative Development Center for UNL in Holdrege, talked about how cooperatives and community food systems can be engines of economic growth and job creation. He pointed to scores of businesses that have been started using cooperative strategies in rural Nebraska communities.

Sandra Scofield, Director of the University of Nebraska Rural Initiative and a former state legislator, talked to the group about the Rural Initiative: "Our mission is to identify opportunities in rural Nebraska and catalyze experimentation, innovation and collaboration across campuses, in partnership with rural citizens, to enhance the economy of rural areas while promoting the sustainable and socially beneficial use of resources."

She talked about how the Rural Initiative has developed a training program for Red Carpet rural tourism. Entrepreneurial tourism, she said, is a growing source of economic development. Community food systems are another resource being developed in many Nebraska towns, and the Rural Initiative is looking at best ways to rebuild the production and distribution networks that used to exist in the state. Market Maker helps producers find markets for their food products. She talked about studies being done to determine what makes people remain or leave rural Nebraska communities, and how the Initiative has developed an enterprise budget tool (available on their website ruralinitiative.nebraska.edu) and dozens of other resources available to all Nebraskans.

Joy Marshall, who puts together MarketPlace each year for the Center for Rural Affairs, talked to the group about the importance of encouraging entrepreneurship. "What is an entrepreneurial community? Has your community changed with the times?"

Marshall talked about finding and using the multitude of state and federal resources that exist to help communities foster entrepreneurship, and how utilizing social media on the Internet is essential. She said it is important to provide mentors, promote networking, offer financial support, encourage the local high school to offer entrepreneurship classes. She suggested participants study the great successes of Fairfield, Iowa, which has an investors roundtable to foster entrepreneurship, among other programs.

Paul Bartlett, Regional Director of the USDA Community Development office in Kearney, told the group about the many programs the USDA has for rural community - from financing for hospitals and telecommunications systems to low-cost loans for water and septic systems, energy and housing, as well as business development.

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

Read UNL Rural Initiative Director Sandy Scofield's important paper, A Crash Course in Infrastructure: Expensive but Essential Components for Rural (and Urban) Nebraska’s Future, for important ideas on how infrastructure contributes to growth and development in Nebraska's towns and cities. Download the PDF here >

Joy Marshall's presentation on Entrepreneurial-Friendly Communities gives good advice about how to encourage new business development in your town. Download the PDF of her presentation here >

Community Food Systems, PowerPoint presentation by Jim Crandall, Associate Director of the Nebraska Cooperataive Development Center, Nebraska’s center for cooperative-based business development.

Energy: How Our Future Will Look Different and What We Can Do About It, PowerPoint presentation by Daniel Lawse, Energy Expert and Sustainable Solutions Coordinator for Metropolitan Community College in Omaha.

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