Economic development in Nebraska

Originally published by Columbus Telegram

By K.C. Belitz

Nebraska partnerships and community success were on full display at the recent Governor’s Summit on Economic Development. This year’s Summit focused on workforce development and people attraction, topics near to the heart of not just economic developers, but community developers across the state.

In light of that topic, this year Gov. Ricketts and DED Director Dave Rippe approved a partnership with Nebraska Community Foundation and the Nebraska Chamber for this year’s Summit. This brought community success stories from across the NCF and State Chamber networks to roughly half the sessions.

Among those success stories, the Summit highlighted the outstanding work Columbus and Norfolk are doing to use media to attract job-seekers. Ray Welsh from Pender talked about the use of “social capital” to create extraordinary success in his hometown. NCF volunteers from Imperial, Burwell, Seward, and points in between talked about bringing young professionals home.

Across our state, in towns small and large, inspiring things are happening! Sharing those stories really does matter, because the general narrative is that rural places are dying. When we share these pictures of success across Nebraska, we are proving that narrative to be false, at least in places where they choose to make it so. We hope that gives fuel to those community developers in greater Nebraska to keep changing that narrative in their place…because it can be done and there is proof to back up that statement.

In addition to the local stories, another highlight of the Summit was the address from Gallup CEO Jim Clifton. Obviously, Gallup’s culture is all about building on strengths so he was a perfect complement to the effort of lifting up Nebraska’s success stories.

Clifton shared that Gallup’s research shows that in today’s economy, the value of “community” has never been greater. As he put it, “You want to save Nebraska? You’ll save it one city at a time. You’ve got to find leaders in each place who’d rather die than see their place fail.” Well, at NCF we get to work with those people every day! How great to hear him suggest that this community-centric model is the right approach for the right moment in history.

That message of community-building was backed up by Gov. Ricketts as well. In his comments, the governor noted that “companies and people don’t move to a generic place called ‘Nebraska,’ they move to a specific community.” He encouraged the towns attending to work toward being places that attracts newcomers and then makes them feel so welcome they never want to leave.

All those doing community and economic development work across the state had to be deeply gratified to hear those messages from two significant influencers. It was validation that both data and public policy considerations lead us to a community-centric approach to this work.

As Clifton pointed out, Nebraskans are unique in our sense of community and willingness to work together, and this year’s Governor’s Summit held that up for everyone to see. The team at NCF and our partners at the Chamber really enjoyed working with the DED team on the Summit. We should thank Gov. Ricketts for his willingness to collaborate and I hope it’s the first of many such statewide collaborations that will bring value to Nebraskans.

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