Executive Director November Update

AREA News, Events, News - 11.30.18

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According to the 2012 USDA census, Red Willow County had 227 livestock farms with a total of 64,000 cattle. When you add in our surrounding counties, there is an additional 333,600 cattle. That’s a lot of beef.

The backbone of our economy in Red Willow County and Nebraska is agriculture. A report by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Department of Agriculture Economics, Nebraska Livestock Expansion White Paper, points out some of our strengths and opportunities. Nebraska ranks 1st in irrigated acres, 1st in commercial red meat production, 2nd in corn-based ethanol, 3rd in corn for grain production, 4th in soybean production, 5th in all hay production, 6th in all hogs and pigs, and 7th in commercial hog slaughter.

Even with these top 10 ranks, there are still opportunities. One of the concerns is Nebraska exports high proportions of its crop output as commodities, which includes over a third of its corn crop, half of the in-state production of distiller’s grain, and more than 80 percent of its soybean meal output.

Based on this, we are excited we were recently awarded a $5,000 grant from the Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska (AFAN) to market Red Willow County to value added agriculture companies. This grant will allow us to build a digital presence and have focused efforts on recruiting value added agriculture companies from the front range of Colorado. We’re excited to be able to partner with AFAN to make this happen.

Anything we can do to improve the economic situation of our local ag producers trickles down to benefit the rest of our local economy. Low commodity prices for an extended time have made agriculture tough, so it is important for us to find opportunities to help producers get the most they can from the sale of commodities.

We also held a MEDC board meeting last week and conducted strategic planning. Through a series of activities, we identified retail recruitment, work force recruitment and development, and housing as our three top priorities.

The area of top importance identified in the near term is retail growth. It is important we retain our place as the retail hub of Southwest Nebraska. Retail has changed, with many brick and mortar retailers being hurt by on-line sales. We plan on a multifaceted approach by helping new local retailers get started and by continuing to recruit national retailers that fill a local gap. In January, we will have a representative from Buxton, a company that is the leader in growth strategies in retail, visit with our board and others who are interested.

A second area of importance identified was workforce development and people attraction. Everyone from the state Chamber of Commerce to the Nebraska Community Foundation has been talking about the importance of people recruitment. We will look at programs to grow our own to fill area needs, along with working to find new ways to put McCook on the map for others to relocate here for job opportunities and the quality of life.

Along with this, we will find ways to support our workforce. Previously, we had applied to be a part of the program Communities for Kids and last week were informed that we have been selected to participate in this program. Experts from Nebraska Children and Families will come to McCook and work with a local core team of 17 people to help us analyze and improve the quantity and quality of early childhood education in McCook.

The other area of main importance continues to be housing. We will continue to work with state programs and explore opportunities to improve our current housing stock and build new homes in McCook. This is a challenge facing almost all of rural Nebraska and we will continue to find local solutions.

All of these components from agriculture, retail, workforce, and housing all rely on local solutions. There isn’t a magic bullet to any of these issues. Fortunately, we left our last meeting with a buzz of excitement as we know we have the individuals and resources locally to grow McCook.