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Economic group to address business expansion
November 25, 2016 Jerry Purvis   
Now that a regional housing study has been completed, members of Western Nebraska Economic Development are starting with another goal: business and industry retention and expansion.

Economic board Chair Michelle Coolidge said business retention and expansion was identified during the group’s strategic planning earlier this fall. Consequently, it’s still in the preliminary stages.

“As part of overall business attraction, we’ll be working with Twin Cities Development, Panhandle Area Development District and the state Economic Development office,” Coolidge said.

Business retention and expansion visits are planned for local businesses. Through an interview process, the group discovers in what areas the business needs assistance, what’s going well, and how the city can support their efforts.

“We want to know how we can help businesses take the next step in expansion,” she said. “It might even be a need for a new company that would help facilitate that expansion through lower costs.”

The business retention and expansion goal is just getting started. A final report on the regional housing study is still ahead. Hanna:Keelan, the firm that conducted the housing study, will help the group implement the plan. The group will also organize an oversight committee to assure the housing recommendations continue to be implemented in member communities.

Coolidge said business expansion is tricky when owners must deal with a volatile economy. “There’s so much going on around the region with layoffs in the railroad industry, and the situation with Cabela’s and Western Sugar in Torrington,” she said. “We felt there was the potential for a major impact if we didn’t try to help offset those losses.”

Right now, the group is identifying what communities have to offer and what they need. With that knowledge, the economic group plans to put a system in motion where people can find new jobs in case there’s a major job loss in the community. Coolidge said they want to avoid the situation where a business closure results in a large number of people moving from the area to find work elsewhere.

“Our next step is to work with other agencies to prioritize where to start,” Coolidge said. “Rather than have every community do their own thing, we’d support going into one community to gather the information. That will build a model we can use in other communities.”

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