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Community task force responds to public needs
May 01, 2014 Jerry Purvis   

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Local residents are invited to get involved in helping steer the community toward a brighter future during two upcoming meetings on May 21 and 22.

The local group Community Connections was formed in response to a 2011 fiscal health report of the state’s 49 legislative districts, requested by the Legislature. The work was conducted by economist Jerry Deichert at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

Results from the report were announced by Scottsbluff Mayor Randy Meininger last September during the State of the Valley address. Some of the numbers were disturbing.

The report revealed that in District 48, which covers most of Scotts Bluff County, median household income is the eighth lowest in the state. It’s also the 14th highest in the state for population age 65 and older. Plus, the district is about 10th for children at below 185 percent of poverty.

For people age 25 and older, the district is the 10th lowest for high school and GED graduates. In the same age group, the district is the state’s 19th lowest for those who have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.

After Dr. Deichert presented the report to a community forum last winter, a group was formed to discuss ways to improve the community’s outlook. The group eventually took the name Community Connections. Their mission statement is “to enhance the quality of life by engaging the community.”

Kristin Wiebe, the group’s chair, said the Rural Futures Institute has identified nine “micro-communities” across the state that serve as regional trading hubs for surrounding rural communities. Scottsbluff-Gering is one of those hubs. While population in the trading hubs remains stable, surrounding populations have shrunk.

“Finding ways to make that hub as efficient and sustaining for those rural populations is the goal,” Wiebe said.

Community Connections has identified six areas for further study: family and health, education and youth, jobs and workforce, business development, regional cooperation and community involvement.

“People have been assigned to all six of those committees and we’re beginning to meet and develop a plan for what would help the most,” she said. “We want to know what some of the big needs are and what some of the attainable goals are.”

Wiebe said some great things are already in progress, such as cooperation between education and workforce development to get more young people certified for skilled jobs by the time they graduate from high school.

Workshop meetings for each of the six groups are scheduled on May 21 and 22 at the Harms Center on the campus of Western Nebraska Community College.

“We want the public to help us look at the data and working out what can be accomplished in those areas,” Wiebe said. “Each committee will meet separately. Three of them will meet on May 21 and the other three on May 22.”

She added the meetings aren’t a big forum and each group will meet for about an hour.

“It’s not a huge time commitment if people know where they’d like to work with,” she said. “These are challenges that not only affect Scottsbluff and Gering, but really all the people that rely on us for services and commerce.”

For more information on times, people can contact Wiebe via email, ekwiebe@gmail.com

“We need a big enough picture to include everything we really want,” Wiebe said. “We want people to feel like they can be a part of the discussion. We’ve already found that many people don’t know where to go to take advantage of the resources our community offers. We want to improve the communication so people know what’s available.”

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