Nebraska communities find innovative solutions to economic challenges

When a community is strong, its economy is strong.

A new statewide initiative known as Energizing Entrepreneurial Ecosystems (E3) is strengthening six Greater Nebraska communities. Based on the learnings of Valley County, a nationally lauded rural entrepreneurial ecosystem, the three-year endeavor will help empower local leaders to further business, community, and economic development in Valley County, Holt County, Keith County, Sidney, Red Cloud, and McCook through extensive training, education, and peer learning opportunities.

Holt County Economic Development (HCED), an affiliated fund of Nebraska Community Foundation, offers existing and start-up businesses technical assistance, education, local grant and loan assistance, business planning, location assistance, and more. The organization is credited with helping to get dozens of new businesses established in Holt County—businesses like Handlebend, which handcrafts one-of-a-kind copper mugs in one of downtown O’Neill’s most historic buildings.

“E3 has been a great resource in continuing to promote collaboration over competition in Holt County. In the last year, the discussions with other E3 communities have been invaluable in helping set goals and build action steps to build sustainable, prosperous local communities,” said HCED Executive Director Shelby Regan. “E3 has provided Holt County with renewed energy to grow and inspire local entrepreneurs.”

Generous support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and Nebraska Public Power District allowed Nebraska Community Foundation, NetWork Kansas, and e2 Entrepreneurial Ecosystems to design the program using the principles of asset-based community development paired with decades of experience—both successes and failures—in finding innovative, locally centered solutions to the most perplexing economic challenges. E3 embraces the idea that in today’s economy, especially post-pandemic, people can live and work wherever they choose. Nurturing a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem isn’t just about helping local businesses thrive, it’s about creating communities of choice with access to early childhood education, great schools, ample recreation, and the safety and quality of life unique to rural places.

“The most valuable component of the program is networking with other communities and understanding how to build and fund future programs,” said Sarah Sinnett, Vice President of Marketing and Technology at G.L. Huyett in Sidney. “This program has taught us to dream big and that we can do anything we put our minds to. I am confident this program is going to make a remarkable difference for our community as well as the entire state.”

E3 has provided Holt County with renewed energy to grow and inspire local entrepreneurs.

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