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Communities create wish lists for economic development
July 22, 2015 Jerry Purvis   

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Members of the Western Nebraska Economic Development committee met last week in Gering to elect new officers and consider new ideas for developing the region.

The new committee chair is Michelle Coolidge, Mayor of Bayard. Gering City Council member Larry Gibbs was selected as vice chair and Scottsbluff City Council member Liz Hilyard as secretary.

Members also reviewed items received so far from the “wish list” from member communities. Daniel Bennett, regional planner with Panhandle Area Development District, asked committee members to take the list back to the respective communities and look for commons themes and items which go together.

“Multiple communities might want to get behind a project that has an impact on the entire region,” Bennett told the committee.
Coolidge said it was too early to prioritize any specific project, but the list gives everyone an idea of what different communities are thinking.

So far, both Gering and Scottsbluff included certified business/industrial sites on their wish lists. Scottsbluff expressed interest in a swimming pool the city can finance. They’d also like to hire an economic development person to serve the entire community. Such development could support a new bridge from 5th Avenue in Scottsbluff connecting with 7th Street in Gering.

Gering’s wish list included working together to develop a regional landfill, improving public transportation in the Panhandle, and building a regional events center in the Mitchell area.
Morrill is working on a ballot initiative to get LB 840 economic development authority approved and improving tourism.

Scotts Bluff County’s priorities included securing federal funding for completion of the Heartland Expressway and a multi-purpose convention center at Scottsbluff capable of hosting indoor concerts, car shows, tractor pulls, and hockey.

Bayard would like to strengthen new business incentives in its community, as well as rehabilitating or removing some of its existing buildings.
The group also heard from Rawnda Pierce, Executive Director of Twin Cities Development (TCD). Her group created an eCenter with access to anyone in the Panhandle. “It’s mostly office space we want to use as an entrepreneurial center to help launch new businesses.”
Pierce said the eCenter is part of what they envision as a one-stop center for people seeking help with any aspect of starting a business. Panhandle Area Development District already has office space in the building and the Scottsbluff/Gering United Chamber of Commerce is considering a move after their current lease at another location expires. Is the chamber looking to move into the eCenter?
“We’re looking for a staffing position for someone to help people when they come in,” Pierce said. “We can’t really advertise the space until we have someone who can assist.”

She also said TCD has a grant application being considered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that would fund a commercial kitchen in the eCenter. It would provide startups in the food business with the needed equipment to process food according to health regulations that would allow the items to be sold commercially.

“I think a commercial kitchen would be busy all the time,” Pierce said. “There are lots of entrepreneurs in the food business that could benefit from this.”

She asked committee members to discuss with their councils whether the eCenter would have a regional benefit and whether members would be willing to contribute toward the $55,000 needed to hire a director. Members agreed to discuss it with their perspective boards.
The committee also revised its bylaws pertaining to member terms and how new members can join. The group’s next meeting is on Thursday, Aug. 20 at 6 p.m. in the Gering City Council chambers.
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