Workshop #5
Grand Island
January 29-30, 2009

Collaboration and cooperation are becoming increasingly important among rural communities and counties in Nebraska, both large and small, according to Sheryl Hiatt, Economic Development Manager in the Business Development Division, Nebraska Department of Economic Development. Hiatt and Mark Gustafson, Coordinator of Rural Economic and Business Development at the UNL Rural Initiative, said that Nebraska communities are finding it imperative to work more closely together in the face of limited resources and limited leadership resources.

Speaking at the Nebraska Sustainability Leadership Workshop in Grand Island in January, Hiatt and Gustafson told participants that communities that are accustomed to competing are finding it not only necessary but advantageous to cooperate with one another, a sustainable solution. One example, said Hiatt, is recent collaboration among potential wind energy landowners to form cooperatives. "This gives them greater leverage when dealing with some of the large energy firms that are now approaching them," she said. "Because they formed their cooperative before they were approached, they are able to present themselves as a much stronger entity in negotiations."

The need for collaboration and cooperation was echoed by participants as they discussed issues like water contamination, the move of the Nebraska State Fair to Grand Island, the need for civic and county leaders with a high degree of expertise in various areas, public health initiatives, flooding, growing and retaining a young and talented workforce, and economics. That collaboration can be rural to urban, county to county, and city to city. They noted that there are certain overlaps and gaps in all the state's regions: there are counties, development districts, natural resources districts, educational service areas, public health districts, districts of the Agency on Aging and Community Service Agencies—and none of these districts or regions have the same borders.

"And, we are accustomed to certain, traditional ways of 'leading,'" said Tom McMahon, Central City City Council President. "It's an economic administration issue. Towns don't set their budgets based on priorities and needs; instead, they're political."

But, all agreed, economic and social structures today demand that collaboration and cooperation, shared resources and shared decision-making are all becoming more important to the vitality of Nebraska communities. Several participants talked about a desire to sustain small villages and low-density counties without those small towns becoming mere "bedroom" communities, and to maintain vitality and growth in larger communities.

They learned that such goals can be achieved, as long as attention is paid to the Five Domains of Sustainability. W. Cecil Steward, President and CEO of the Joslyn Institute for Sustainable Communities, and Mary Ferdig, President of the Sustainability Leadership Institute, discussed what sustainability means, how leaders steeped in principles of sustainability can lead their communities to greater vitality, and how to plan and measure their goals using Steward's EcoSTEP™ tool.

"Sustainable development is a new way of thinking," said Steward. "The binge of trial-and-error is ending. We are now finding it both possible and necessary to apply sustainability thinking to the future of a region."

Although it may be a new way of thinking, said Herman Schuette, Merrick County Supervisor, it's also an old and time-tested thought process. "It's an awareness of living within your means, of trying not to borrow from the future," he said.

Local food systems are also an important component of a sustainable community, and Jim Crandall, Associate Director of the Nebraska Cooperative Development Center, talked with the group about the importance of knowing where your food comes from, knowing it is fresh and safe, and how local food systems are a burgeoning business opportunity. He said he has helped Nebraskans establish a growing number of cooperative businesses, ranging from ostrich farms to perch exporters to cedar products manufacturers. "The markets are there for our farm products," said Crandall, "and they're growing."

"The preponderance of Nebraska counties are ag-dominated," said Sheryl Hiatt, "no matter how diverse we try to make our economies." In light of that, Crandall's initiatives to diversify our produce and create strong local food systems make even more sense, economically, health-wise, politically and in terms of sustainability.

Ken Curry, Energy Efficiency Expert for the Nebraska Public Power District, talked with the group about the earth's growing population and increasing energy demand in the face of global climate change. He talked about alternate forms of energy, such as geothermal, solar and wind, and about the increasing need to address the lack of net metering in Nebraska.

Click on the images to view enlargements.

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

Jim Crandall, Associate Director of the Nebraska Cooperative Development Center, sent a link to his website:, as well as to the Nebraska Food Cooperative, Another link to a website for community-based farms and cooperative food-based businesses is

Below, you can download the PowerPoint presentation NPPD's Ken Curry.

All Roads Lead to Energy Efficiency, PowerPoint presentation by Ken Curry of the Nebraska Public Power District

Some 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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