REDI Act: help with economic development for Nebraska small towns

Small Towns

By Deborah Van Fleet, Public News Service-Nebraska 

A bill in the Nebraska Legislature would give small communities some help in applying for and administering federal grant money.

Remote working made small-town living more feasible for a lot of people during the pandemic.

Johnathan Hladik, policy director with the Center for Rural Affairs, said it also highlighted areas needing attention in order to accommodate new residents and businesses—like housing, storefronts and broadband service.

Johnathan said LB 515, the Rural Economic Development Initiative or "REDI Act," would help Nebraska towns and counties procure some of the $160 billion in federal funds now available for economic development.

"And that money is going to go somewhere," said Johnathan. "Some county in the United States is going to get every piece of that money. So, the question is whether we think that county should be here in Nebraska? And at the Center for Rural Affairs, we do."

If approved, the REDI Act would allocate $15 million to allow up to 50 Nebraska counties to hire a dedicated economic development person for five years.

Johnathan said the expectation is that the positions would be self-supporting after that.

Crystal Dunekacke is the City Administrator and Economic Developer for the southeast Nebraska town of Auburn—population around 3,000.

Only half of her time is dedicated to economic development, and she's the only one paid to do so in a county of 7,000 residents.

She said someone devoted to it full-time could make a huge impact.

"That would be somebody who could work on our housing initiatives," said Crystal, "on our business recruitment and retention initiatives and work on a lot of the other projects we're trying to bring to Nemaha County, and have the staff time in order to do that."

Crystal said she feels most small Nebraska communities and counties are in a similar position.

"Just doing their basic duties of paying the bills and making sure the municipality is functioning properly is enough for them," said Crystal, "let alone trying to add grant writing and management of state and federal funds on top of it."

The REDI Act had its most recent hearing at the end of January.

Click here to listen to the interview.