Conference Shares Struggles & Successes of Nebraska Small Towns

Monday, August 26, 2019

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This summer, PCDC leaders took advantage of an opportunity to learn from the economic development successes and challenges in other communities across the state at the Nebraska Economic Developers Association (NEDA) Conference.

Phelps County Development Corporation staff members Ron Tillery, Carley Bruning and Stacy Pafford, and board members Phil Hinrichs and Shane Westcott attended the June conference in Wayne (population 5,494).

“It’s important to have directors who are engaged and willing to learn about economic development best practices,” said PCDC Executive Director Ron Tillery. “PCDC’s entire staff attended, which is unusual for organization like ours, but it helps motivate and educate.”

Phil, who owns Farm Bureau Financial Services in Holdrege, said he attended to support the PCDC leadership team, to network with economic development proponents in Nebraska and to learn from other communities.

“I really enjoyed hearing about the success with Costco in Fremont,” Phil said. “I also learned how Sidney, Nebraska is dealing with some difficult economic conditions.”

In Fremont, Costco and Lincoln Premium Poultry are building a processing plant to supply rotisserie chicken to Costco stores. This has resulted in a local boost to the agricultural economy for farmers who grow the chickens and for growers who supply the chicken feed.

Sidney, who won the bid to host next year’s conference, has seen some recent economic development success after the loss of the Cabela’s headquarters, which employed 2,000 people in the town of 6,620 (2017 estimate). The city has recruited several new employers in the past year, including Toronto-based MMP Enterprises, which could create 300 jobs.

Shane, a local farmer and businessman, said the Fremont and Sidney experiences impacted his views as well.

“Sidney is going through a difficult time with the loss of Cabela’s,” Shane said. “Their economic development director is taking it and selling it as a positive in saying that they have the workforce, the infrastructure and the people. All they need is the business. This was an interesting approach.”

Phil said this was his first time visiting Wayne, and he came back with a great appreciation for the community.

“It’s quite progressive,” he said.

While there, the Phelps County crew visited Wayne’s downtown, a new clubhouse at its golf course and its new banquet hall and convention facility. PCDC is working with a local organization to pursue building a new banquet hall/convention facility in Phelps County.

Shane said Wayne State College gives Wayne a different dynamic in their economy.

Both Phil and Shane said the conference was worthwhile and a great experience.

“We learned Phelps County has a tremendous amount of opportunity in front of it,” Shane said. “We just have to make sure we position ourselves to take advantage of opportunities when they become available. Economic development requires a team approach. Everyone needs to be pulling in the same direction.”

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