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As a farm kid and current farmer, I can tell you there is a special feeling every farmer and rancher has when they are out in nature. More than just enjoying the wide-open spaces, farmers and ranchers work with nature to produce essential food for families across the globe. I think many small business owners have a similar feeling about the communities where they open their businesses. Starting a business is more than just supply and demand. It is also investing in the needs and people of a community and being part of growing economic opportunities.
Julie and I moved to North Platte over 28 years ago with two small children. I had spent the previous 10 years managing the Correspondent Banking Division for the National Bank of Commerce (NBC) in Lincoln, a sister bank to North Platte National Bank. In my role at NBC, I traveled the state visiting other banks and larger agricultural borrowers. It was a great way to learn more about the unique attributes of the Sandhills and how truly special they are to our state.
At the time of my arrival, North Platte National was in the beginning stages of building a new building (now home to Wells Fargo) to accommodate their growth in the heart of downtown. NBC was also expanding to Bridgeport, Alliance, Hyannis, Mullen, and Valentine. It was during that time that I became very active in economic development. I wanted to see the towns where my customers lived and work continue to grow and thrive.
On the heels of the most recent census, a refocusing on economic development is more important than ever before. District 42 communities, and those elsewhere in Western Nebraska, need to find ways to slow and reverse the migration we have seen to Nebraska’s urban areas. Economic development will require strong leadership in each community, and a collaboration between neighboring communities to support regional development. By growing our local economies, we can attract additional opportunities throughout the region.
Growth begets more growth. By growing high paying jobs with good benefits, we cause more homes to be built, add more children to our schools, and more retail activity. If we want to attract more restaurants and stores, we need more people with higher average incomes and potential to continue growing. In turn, more retail stores bring more shoppers to market and, just as importantly, keeps more shopping dollars in our market.
Sometimes it is hard to know where to start in these cycles. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? How do we grow our local economies to attract more businesses without the businesses to support more population?
The first step is supporting community services that can also attract more population. North Platte has the potential to become a strong regional trade center. Because of its proximity to I-80 and Highway 83, North Platte is easy to access and draws people from a 100-mile radius for the goods and services that residents throughout the region needed without competing with Kearney. A strong regional trade center has strong health care facilities, great schools, available retirement housing, quality recreational facilities, and reliable air service.
All these factors are impacted by population in and around the trade area. Many educational, healthcare, and service-based needs can be shared resources amongst the District. Others can be more readily accessed in North Platte versus traveling to Scottsbluff, Kearney, or Grand Island if properly supported by North Platte and the surrounding communities.
District 42 has many advantages to attract new residents and businesses. We have strong schools (both public and private) that have quality facilities and teachers. We have a new modern hospital staffed with very talented physicians and nursing professionals, including one of the best cancer facilities in the entire state, a new neurosurgery center with truly outstanding staff, and a best-in-class emergency department. Our park systems are very strong and capitalize on the beauty of Western Nebraska. The new owners of the District 177 mall are aggressively creating an entirely new shopping experience that everyone in the region will be proud of. We also are blessed to have Mid-Plains Community College, whose presence reaches throughout the area; the expansion of the Health Science facility will be a welcome addition and another step forward in helping address our nursing shortage.
I am only one of many business owners who has invested in the communities where my customers live and work, but I am proud of the progress that we have made over the past 20 plus years to address these issues. In the coming weeks, I will focus on where we have been with our economic development progress and where we can expect to go in the future.
If you see opportunities for growth or have ideas for how the Nebraska Legislature can further support economic development in rural communities, please reach out to me at email@example.com or 402-471-2729. Our door is always open!