Photo: L-R (Back Row): Mark McCoy, Laurel City Administrator; Chad Johnson, City Councilman; Christine Rasmussen, Economic Development Coordinator; Mark Koch, City Council President. (Front Row): Justin Eriksen, City Councilman; Jeff Erwin, City Councilman; Lt. Gov Mike Foley; Mayor Keith Knudsen; Vikki Carlson, Laurel City Clerk.
Lt. Gov. Mike Foley recognizes city’s membership in Economic Development Certified Community program.
Collaborative efforts to build downtown revitalization and business sustainability in the city of Laurel, Neb. (pop. 1,111) have earned ongoing recognition from the Department of Economic Development (DED). This week, Lt. Gov. Mike Foley honored local leaders for Laurel’s continued membership in Nebraska’s Economic Development Certified Community (EDCC) program. DED’s Northeast Nebraska Business Development Consultant Lyndsy Jenness joined the Lt. Gov. for a special presentation to the community on Monday, April 12.
Laurel is one of 40 Nebraska communities to earn EDCC status in the program, sponsored by the Nebraska Diplomats and administered by DED. State officials established the EDCC program in 2005 to recognize communities for preparedness to attract new industries and grow existing businesses. As part of the certification process, qualifying communities must identify a well-defined program that actively engages with their existing business community and offers a supportive environment for welcoming new economic development projects. This includes documenting available sites and buildings, developing local financing and incentive programs and creating ongoing strategic planning for economic growth. The community received original EDCC certification in 2010, and earned program recertification in 2015 and 2021.
“What an honor it is to be recertified for the EDCC program by the Nebraska Diplomats,” Laurel Mayor Keith Knudsen said. “This designation, along with ongoing economic development programs and projects, will help to ensure a bright future and continued growth for our community.”
Over the past five years, community leaders have established support for several development projects following strategic planning efforts initiated in 2019. Top priorities among Laurel residents included development of a fire hall, community center and senior center.
The City’s partnership with the State of Nebraska will provide infrastructure developments for the City’s downtown revitalization project, funded by a local one percent sales tax and bonding. Anticipated for construction in 2021, the project will revamp three and a half blocks in downtown Laurel through median removals and street, sewer and sidewalk replacements. A $445,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for Downtown Revitalization (DTR), awarded by DED, will assist with project costs. Community beautification efforts are also underway to increase aesthetic appeal in the area.
“The City of Laurel’s improvements to key downtown infrastructure provides a glimpse at its leaders’ commitment to long-term investments in their community,” said Lt. Gov. Mike Foley. “Doing so sends a strong message to new and existing business owners that they are valued and essential to economic growth. The State of Nebraska appreciates the opportunity to partner with the City in these efforts, which also highlight Laurel’s success as an EDCC.”
Construction of a new community center in downtown Laurel is also planned for the spring of 2021, made possible through the Community Center Committee’s extensive fundraising via local grants and pledges. DED’s Civic and Community Center Financing Fund (CCCFF) will also contribute to the project, which will include space for Laurel’s Senior Center.
In November 2020, Laurel’s Fire Protection District broke ground for the Laurel Fire and Rescue Building. The building, located on Highway 20, will increase accessibility to the community and serve as headquarters for the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department and area EMT’s.
Economic Development Coordinator Christine Rasmussen says community development projects enhance local quality of life and compliment the City’s efforts as an EDCC.
“The EDCC program’s recertification process is a hands-on commitment to quality on all levels of economic development,” Rasmussen said. “The EDCC designation confirms we are on track to continue positive growth in our community, and we are well-positioned for current and future opportunities. We are excited and honored to receive this certification.”
Several entrepreneurs have gained community support for new and expanding businesses. T&H Meat Company and Fine Spirits recently relocated to a storefront in downtown Laurel, which offers meat from local farmers and promotes food products made in Nebraska. In addition, The Scoop ice cream and gelato shop provides a safe haven for local students to gather before and after school activities.
Local leaders have completed succession planning for newly retired, well-established business owners. New owners of Laurel Hometown Market (formerly Gary’s Foodtown), Cubby’s Convenience Store (formerly Urwiler’s Cornermart), and heating and cooling company Campbell Service (previously Lackas Service) recently acquired their businesses and are fully operational. In addition, the owners of Laurel True Value converted the business to Laurel Ace Hardware. Building upgrades have allowed new space for rental equipment and a new greenhouse at the business. A full-service flower shop and greenhouse, Floral Footprints, also recently received renovations by the shop’s new owner. A new seed business in the community, Top Crop, opened in late 2020.
“Laurel is open for business and stands ready to support our existing employers and meet the needs of businesses considering locating here,” said Laurel City Council President Mark L. Koch. “Nebraska’s EDCC program certification takes that message to the next level providing the proof and justification that Laurel has the infrastructure, financing and commitment to economic growth. Recertification of our community is an exciting opportunity to continue marketing Laurel as a great place to start or grow a business and raise a family.”
Immanuel Lutheran Church recently assisted the community’s efforts to address childcare needs in Laurel. Shepherd’s Care opened in early 2021 and offers childcare for children from six weeks to five years old. Last month, the business announced that it is accepting enrollment for preschool in the 2021-2022 school year.
“EDCC members across Nebraska continue to initiate creative opportunities for businesses and families in their regions,” said Nebraska Diplomats President Tim O’Brien. “Support for new and existing business owners, entrepreneurs and young families in Laurel encourages these leaders to continue to build their lives in this community.”
For additional information on the Economic Development Certified Community Program, contact Ashley Rice-Gerlach at 308-655-0919 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit https://opportunity.nebraska.gov/program/economic-development-certified-community-edcc/.