Community Development

Communities that invest in themselves can better keep and attract the people who energize communities and create new businesses.

Throughout America, many rural communities are losing people, businesses, jobs, and vibrancy. It’s time for a rural recovery.

Building Blocks for Rural Recovery

Rural residents want stable communities, family farms, small businesses, and local schools. Rural areas have the building blocks of their own recovery:

  • Community infrastructures are intact - rural communities have existing schools, churches, town governments, housing, and water/sanitary systems.
  • Rural areas are full of entrepreneurs - there are twice as many sole proprietorships in the plains rural counties compared to urban counties, and 70% of net job growth in these counties in the past has been in non-farm self-employment.
  • Farms generate commerce - a single-family farm contributes $720,000 to the local economy, or the equivalent of eight $40,000 "town jobs". On average, 7 farms support 1 town business.

Rural communities can build on these assets to strengthen themselves in two ways:

  1. Feed the entrepreneurial spirit. We can recognize that rural people are willing and able to make their own jobs when the roadblocks are removed and the resources are available. 
  2. Reinvigorate the agricultural sector. We can reverse the trend of declining farm share of the food dollar by finding ways for farmers and ranchers to reduce their input costs and to take back more of the processing and marketing share. 

An Integrated Approach

The Center for Rural Affairs has offered services to rural communities for several years. We focus on providing:

  • Accessing Much Needed Resources
  • Learning to Lead Others
  • Helping to Have a Direct Influence in Policy
  • Starting Creative and Innovative Community Projects
  • Encouraging Youth to Live and Work in Rural Areas
  • Developing a Vision for the Community
  • Starting New Ventures within the Community
  • Building Support for the Area and Community

A pilot project began in northern Nebraska’s Cedar County. Together with community organizations and government, we designed leadership classes, did the first-ever town/rural citizen-and-student survey, unearthed new business and community betterment ideas, and jump-started citizen-led projects. The Center provides our own expertise as well as connections to others that can help with implementation.

Key Issues

Rural Schools - Public policy that pressures small schools into consolidation through underfunding and incentives is counter-productive. As schools get larger, educational results generally worsen. The academic, social and communal advantages of smaller schools are lost. It makes little sense for the best interest of communities and society to adopt public policy that worsens the achievement of outcomes of our schools and students. 

Building Rural Leaders - Leaders often guide others in setting direction, opinions, and action. They play a critical role in shaping the future. Training and commitment can make typical citizens into effective leaders. The Leadership Training page presents tips on helping to shape public opinion about an issue or activity. 


Contact Kathie Starkweather for information on the community revitalization aspects of our work. 

Visit the Farm and Community Program page for more ideas.

Community Development Notes

 

Regional Food Systems in Nebraska: Report on Consumer, Producer, and Institutional Focus Groups

In February 2013, the Center for Rural Affairs (CFRA) released a report Regional Food Systems in Nebraska: The Views of Consumers, Producers and Institutions, analyzing the results of a survey responded to by Nebraskans on local food system issues.

After the survey was completed, CFRA held a series of focus groups for each of the project relevant groups – consumers, producers, food-serving institutions and grocery stores. This supplemental report provides findings and observations from those focus groups.

File attachments: 

Christmas Bazaar offers Unique, Local Holiday Shopping Experience

Black Friday and Small Business Saturday have passed, but there is still plenty of time for holiday shopping. And for those who aspire to shop local, a great opportunity exists, especially if you're looking to support beginning farmers, artisans and craftspeople close to home.
 
On Saturday, December 13th, check out one of the most unique holiday shopping experiences you'll find in Northeast Nebraska ... or anywhere.
 

Conservation Helps Build Tourism Dollars in Western States

Small towns and rural communities depend on recreation and tourism for large parts of their economy. This was obvious to me growing up. I’m from Wisconsin, where the summer tourism industry depends so heavily on student labor, public schools and universities can’t even start before September 1.

Western states also depend on recreation and tourism. Visitors to Bureau of Land Management(BLM) sagebrush landscapes spent an estimated $1 billion last year, according to a recent study.

Giving Thanks for Unexpected Things

Thanksgiving is when, as a nation, we give thanks for the important blessings in our lives. For many, that likely includes family, good health, a decent job, and the like. And we should be thankful if we enjoy any or all of those things.
 
For some in our society, however, working hard doesn’t always produce enough income to make ends meet. And many rural and small town Americans depend on something that the rest of us don’t likely think about that often, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), to help get through some of the tough times.