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A look at - and helping - the State of the Valley
October 02, 2014 Jerry Purvis   

Read more by Jerry Purvis
At last year’s State of the Valley address, the public learned about an eye-opening study on our area’s fiscal health. This year, they learned what is being done to address those issues.

The original report, compiled by Drs. Jerry Deichert and Robert Blair at the University of Nebraska-Omaha in 2011, contained some disturbing numbers. In Legislative 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.

Scotts Bluff County Commissioners Chairman Mark Masterton said that leaders and responsible residents in the community need to ask themselves if this could be part of our problem with economic development. He pointed out that we have built about everything that would make us attractive to prospective businesses. But what about the workforce? Do they have the skill sets necessary to compete in a global economy? Much of our workforce lacks some of those basic skills. Our future is our young people, so we need to do something to reverse these trends, Masterton challenged.

The local group Community Connections was formed in response to that report and identified six key areas that needed to be addressed: family and health, education and youth, jobs and workforce, business development, regional cooperation, and community involvement.

Community Connections chair Kristin Wiebe spoke at the Sept. 17 meeting. She said that we’re just beginning to engage the community in some of these key areas and that more time and work will need to be invested in a region-wide effort, not just one town or another. She made a good point.

One of the efforts Wiebe outlined was businesses working with local high schools and Western Nebraska Community College to teach skills through on-the-job training and move those skilled workers into the workforce.

Wiebe also mentioned a number of meetings have been scheduled that show people are investing in the region. Next Wednesday, Oct. 8, policy advisors from the Federal Reserve of Kansas City will be in the area to talk about key regional issues and national economic trends.

On Oct. 14, the Rural Futures Institute forums will be in the area to discuss how partnerships are contributing to health and wellness initiatives and how leaders are developing new business and increase tourism opportunities.

And on Oct. 28 – 29, workshops in Sidney and Scottsbluff will showcase how technology can grow business.

“There are a lot of good things happening here,” Wiebe said.

Outgoing State Sen. John Harms, who has represented the 48th District for the past eight years, also spoke about the importance of education in providing the needed skills to grow our area workforce. He said one of the most important factors in drawing people here is having adequate education facilities. And he addressed the numerous substandard conditions at the aging Scottsbluff High School building, include an outdated security system.

“Having a well-designed, modern high school is critical to a community,” he told the group. “It will determine whether you will be a city at risk or whether you will rise above that.”

He said the upcoming bond issue to bring Scottsbluff High School up to date will determine whether we have a future or not. “It will determine whether companies will want to come and look at us. They already know about our school environment and they’re watching this closely. They want to know if we have an interest in our children. If we ignore our school system, they probably won’t come here. If we’re going to have a future and not be a community at risk, this has to be addressed. This is the right time to do it.”

Approval of bonding to bring the high school up to date will be on the ballot for Scottsbluff residents on Nov. 4. For those of you who are affected by this issue, make sure to get out and vote.
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