KC Belitz: The ‘time is now’ for economic, community development

Originally published in the Columbus Telegram

I’m pleased to have recently had the opportunity to speak with the economic development team in Thayer County. At the annual banquet for Thayer County Economic Development Alliance, I tried to make the case that their “time is now.”

Whether you’re in Thayer County, Platte County, or any of the other 91, I’d suggest that statement is true in the realm of economic and community development. As we’ve talked about before in this column, we have a unique window of opportunity right now in greater Nebraska.

I suggested to Thayer County that they have this golden opportunity at their hands. Maximizing that opportunity for them or anyone else will take a recognition that economic development, community development and workforce development are now all one thing and that means a whole new set of partners have to be mobilized. Those partners are now more likely to be in public, private and philanthropic space, which in many cases means that new relationships will need to be built.

I’m sure it’s true in Thayer County, just as it is for the Columbus Economic Council, that they are working on things that TCEDA never imagined working on 10 or 20 years ago.

Again, it’s an indication that new relationships are needed—whether that’s a resource in housing or early childhood—that wouldn’t have been envisioned in traditional economic development.

But once again, when those relationships are built—the time is now. Thayer County has no shortage of financial resource—the intergenerational Transfer of Wealth this decade will be $565-million. They have reached their peak years of transfer and many of us are getting close, so there is this sense of urgency.

The time is also now from the perspective that rural Nebraska has a receptive audience among today’s young people. Nebraska Community Foundation has conducted Youth Surveys in both places and despite being somewhat different in size and demographics, the results are remarkably similar. Students at any of the high schools in Thayer County had the same answers to those at Columbus High, Scotus or Lakeview: they love small towns, they desire the safety and “family values” of their hometowns, and many of them plan to come home or stay home as adults. Students at Lakeview High recently met with Columbus Area Future Fund members to discuss the local survey results and came away feeling empowered that these local leaders genuinely wanted to hear what they thought. That’s direct people attraction work being done by the Future Fund!

Thayer County has been a leader in the NCF network with respect to using a different tool for to do that same direct people attraction work with students: the NCF Hometown Interns. They’ve engaged seven of those students, and some of those seven have now changed their direction to include a future return to Thayer County—people attraction at it’s finest!

Just as I shared in Thayer County last week, the time is now.

Time to capitalize on our financial abundance, our receptive audience and our ability to build new partnerships to get work done in these new shared space of community, workforce, and economic development.

Photos courtesy of former Hometown Intern Dakota Cherney

The time is now!

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