How We Built Ord’s Economy

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The number of non-farm jobs increased in Valley County, Nebraska, by 42 percent from 2000 to 2008. The director of the town’s economic development program explains this kind of success: You invest in your town and in people.

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remarkably successful economic development initiative in Ord, Nebraska.

The town taxed itself to build a fund that was then used to build locally-owned businesses. Non-farm employment in Valley County, Nebraska, increased 42 percent from 2000 to 2008 as a result.

Yonder editor Julie Ardery recently wrote Caleb Pollard, director of Valley County Economic Development and asked him what works and what doesn’t in local development. In particular, Julie asked, how do you deal with “defeatism”? 

Caleb wrote back and here is what he had to say.

Let me start with your comment on defeatism. 

I totally agree. Heck, I’d even charge that some organizations have led to this attitude simply because they’ve focused on reporting on all the disparity, bad news and humongous challenges that are faced with rural development.  

Let’s face it: we’re working against macro-socioeconomic issues. We are losing. But in my heart of hearts, I believe many people value rural, value rural experiences and value the kind of life you can live out in the sticks. 

Our challenge is making linkages with those positive stories to help build momentum. I think our story in Ord is just one product of that.  

While in Valley County we have task forces, committees, boards and all the other fun stuff. Yes, the same people seem to populate each group. We get things done because our primary focus is producing results! 

Who cares if you meet without a specific outcome? Why meet at all? Might as well just have coffee and gossip like the rest of town!  With that in mind, one major action, our primary goal actually, is to recruit people to the community. 

We don’t just focus on “creating jobs” but on connecting people with opportunity. 

Because we have no large employers (our largest is the publicly-funded hospital) we need to be focused on giving people the resources and expertise to grow their own. Just like self-investment, the majority of “deals” we’ve closed have been focused on individuals growing their own business.

We invest in our own human capital.  Essential to that is the recruitment and retention of people. 

We feel business is just an aggregate of people and if our access is limited to people who already live here, so are our opportunities. So we look outside the county and recruit people to come home.

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