I was in York, NE for the Nebraska Rural Institute, an annual event that brings together economic development enthusiasts from throughout the state. The theme for this year’s conference was “Entrepreneurial Engines & Economic Development Essentials.”
Stu Miller, Deputy Director for ED for the state, and Norene Fitzgerald, head of ED for the county gave me a great tour of York (population 8,081). Every town that I visit generally has something that impresses me about the town. Sometimes it is the downtown, industrial park, parks, or other attributes. In the case of York, it was the giving spirit that I saw exhibited in the many new projects in the town.
Norene told me, “Our community foundation has over $5 million in assets and it has only been in existence for fifteen or so years.” With the power of compound interest, I can’t wait to see what it will be in five or ten years! I also learned of Aurora, NE (population 4,225) which has approximately $28 million in their community foundation! I’ve got to check them out on a next trip!
The community hospital just completed a new $10 million clinic, helped by donations. The city just finished a $3 million new water park on a new 40 acre park partially paid thru donations. A new $10 million middle school is being built to replace the old one built in the 1800s. The town also has an outstanding library and senior center, also partially built with dollars from local benefactors.
Mayor Greg Adams talked about how a spirit of cooperation and can-do-it-ness permeates the town, “I think that it dates back to our forefathers. They came west in their covered wagons and knew that they had to cooperate with each other to make it across the Great Plains.”
One of the most impressive gifts by a local citizen was Wessels Living History Farm, a gift from David Wessels who wanted children to understand what it was like to grow up on a farm in the 1920s, when he was a child. Wessels bequeathed the family farm, which lies just south of I-80 along with several million dollars for its support.
Dale Clark the new activity director for the farm took time off from redoing the interior of the Wessels’ home when we visited, to show us around. “This is not going to be a museum, but it’s going to be an educational event center. We are going to use it to teach youngsters about their heritage and have it available for special weekends during the year.” He plans to plant two acre plots of corn, doing one with horses, one with a 1925 John Deere tractor and one with a new modern tractor to show how productivity has changed over time. Plans are to add a one room school house and summer kitchen to the old house and barns that are on the property. Their webcam of the farm (www.livinghistoryfarm.org) is getting 90,000 hits/month.