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Local leaders encouraged to join state economic group
August 27, 2015 Jerry Purvis   

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Tapping into state resources can give communities a number of additional tools to prepare for the future, whether it’s new business opportunities or expansion of existing businesses.
Starr Lehl, Business Development Consultant with the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, spoke with members of the Western Nebraska Economic Development group at their monthly meeting in Gering last week.

She said the Certified Economic Development Community Program started in 2005. In larger communities, the extensive application process includes having a business retention and expansion program in place, along with a full-time economic development director.
“What we needed was something for smaller communities to be ready for economic development opportunities,” Lehl said. “The Economic Development program began in 2011, and there are 36 of those across the state.”

Bridgeport is currently in the process of joining the program. Lehl encouraged representatives from other communities to also get involved. Over the last nine months, she’s received several calls from businesses in need of buildings and/or land for expansion.
“Businesses and site selectors no longer go to the state,” Lehl said. “They go directly to the community they’re interested in to see what types of sites and buildings are available. If there’s nothing there, they move on to the next community.”

The program was instituted to make smaller communities competitive when businesses come looking for new sites.

For smaller community, the process includes doing a needs assessment survey of the town, asking citizens what the town needs and what they’d like to see. Then a profile of city government is compiled and a strategic plan prepared from data from the survey.

“You also need an online presence,” Lehl told the group. “This is where site selectors go to find out what you have available. Of course, our agency will help you with many parts of the process.”
She said becoming a member of the Economic Development program opens a number of state resources to help with economic development, including grant programs to help finance projects.

“A lot of leaders and CEOs from large companies came from small communities,” she said. “They’re really looking at good, viable places to put their businesses. And, you never know what might come along because I’ve seen a lot of them.”
She encouraged all the communities in the group to start the process of getting into the program, as it would be an important component for future community growth. Once certified in the program, communities can promote themselves as a group.

The group also discussed a potential housing availability study in all partner communities. “If a meatpacking plant comes to the area, it will impact the housing in every community,” said Scottsbluff Assistant City Manager Nathan Johnson. “This is something we should consider as one of our first projects.”

Johnson said that once approved by the Scottsbluff City Council, they could send out requests for proposals to determine the cost of having a study done.
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