Author: Ronda Graff – MCFF
When the McCook Economic Development Corp. was established in 1985, its primary role was to support businesses. After all, its mission statement says the MEDC is dedicated to “facilitating the formation, retention, attraction, and expansion of business in McCook and the surrounding area.”
So why does the MEDC now include a focus on housing and childcare in addition to supporting established and potential new businesses?
Because times have changed. Because rural America has changed. Because McCook and Southwest Nebraska have changed. The MEDC needed to change if McCook and Southwest Nebraska wanted to continue and thrive.
In the past, the MEDC could focus solely on recruiting employers and new businesses to spur economic growth and increase job opportunities. That is no longer the case as employees can live just about anywhere. Simply having a job opening is no longer enough for a potential employee to move to a new community. There are many variables which are considered including health care, the school system, recreational opportunities, and amenities available for single people and families alike.
Rather than waiting on luck, the MEDC Board decided a few years ago to prioritize three areas of focus: business, child care and housing.
As the year comes to a close, the MEDC can celebrate accomplishments in all of those areas, but especially in relation to the housing issue.
In mid-2022, the MEDC hired a director of housing development with Amanda Engell taking on the newly-created role.
Having had previous experience in the residential construction industry with a background in residential interior design and construction management, the MEDC felt that having an individual solely focused on housing was necessary to see them from start to finish, according to MEDC Executive Director Charlie McPherson.
“Amanda will be our boots on the ground for the MEDC for these development projects, to help things run smoothly, and stay on top of state and federal funding opportunities to assist with our continued housing needs,” McPherson said.
Another highlight this past year was the completion of the 2022 McCook Housing Study, which shed light on several areas of concern. Most notably, market rate single-family homes and rental needs in the community are lacking, Engell said.
“Issues included the lack of suitable available rental units and poor condition of housing,” Engell said. “If you have been on the hunt for a rental home or apartment in the last few years, you know it can be difficult to find availability.”
She added that new apartment development has not taken place in McCook since the East Ward Village project in 2012. Prior to that, Kelley Creek Apartments built in 2000 was the last significant project.
To assist with housing needs including developing apartments, the MEDC is applying for Rural Workforce Housing Grant funds.
“There are big goals in place to help make an impact on McCook’s housing and rental market with these potential funds,” Engell said.
In 2020, the MEDC was awarded a grant through the Nebraska Department of Economic Development to be matched 1:1. The NDED has announced another grant cycle in 2023, with every dollar raised locally matched by $2.
“The idea behind the Rural Workforce Housing Fund is to create a revolving fund that can be utilized for years to come,” McPherson said. “The goal would be to utilize these funds to assist local builders or help mitigate the risk of a developer investing in our community with an emphasis on an apartment development.”
Some may wonder why the MEDC is focusing on housing, but employers need employees, who need housing. Businesses need customers, who need housing. And the community needs workers, who need housing. By shifting its approach to economic development to include housing, the MEDC continues to meet its mission and to help McCook and Southwest Nebraska to grow and thrive.