From Historic Restorations to Modern-Era Housing, North Platte Leaders Build Opportunities Across Generations

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From Historic Restorations to Modern-Era Housing, North Platte Leaders Build Opportunities Across Generations

Left to right: Mayor Dwight Livingston, DED Business Development Consultant Ashley Rice-Gerlach and North Platte Area Chamber & Development Corporation Board Chair Dr. Rich Raska.

State of Nebraska honors City for continued leadership in economic development.

Years of collaborative efforts to drive developments in health care, housing and downtown revitalization have earned the City of North Platte (pop. 23,814) State recognition. This week, the Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED) announced the City’s ongoing membership in the State’s Economic Development Certified Community (EDCC) program. EDCC Program Coordinator and DED Business Development Consultant Ashley Rice-Gerlach and Governor Pete Ricketts’ West-Central Director Brittany Hardin honored community leaders during a special presentation on Tuesday, July 7.

North Platte 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 the existing business community and offers a supportive environment for welcoming new economic development projects. This includes documenting available sites and buildings, local financing and incentive programs and a strategic plan for economic development. North Platte received original EDCC certification in 2010 and earned recertification in 2015 and 2020.

Over the past five years, collaborative efforts between local economic leaders, City officials and private industry partners contributed to several development opportunities in downtown North Platte. For example a cooperative effort between the City, the Downtown Association and the North Platte Area Chamber and Development Corporation spearhead an ongoing $4 million revitalization project in the community’s soon-to-be designated “Canteen District.” The façade restoration project allowed for the removal of outdoor steel awnings, which had canopied storefronts for nearly 50 years. The project also incentivized business owners to begin historic building restorations in the century-old downtown area. In addition to local economic development assistance, the City received Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding from DED for a portion of the project’s planning and construction.

Following years of tax liens and tax debts encompassing the downtown’s historic and abandoned Pawnee Hotel, the Chamber and Development Corporation purchased the building’s tax certificate to remove lien holders and sell property rights. Doing so paved the way for redevelopment of the 90-year-old hotel. Major renovations were also completed in the area’s historic Fox Theater and Prairie Arts Center buildings, made possible by local investors, grants and volunteers.

“Downtown developments not only demonstrate the City of North Platte’s preparedness for economic growth in the EDCC program, but also pay tribute to its rich history in a city known for its civic and community service,” said Nebraska Diplomats President Dan Duncan. “Through these ongoing restorations, local leaders have an opportunity to honor past generations and provide current and future business owners with a platform for growth in the Canteen District.”

A three-phase economic project in the Chamber and Development Corporation-owned Twin Rivers Business Park includes commercial developments on Halligan Drive, as well as a new warehouse district currently under construction. The multi-million-dollar project, led by Chief Industries/Prataria Ventures, will also include construction of a retirement village.

The Chamber and Development Corporation’s working relationship with Union Pacific Railroad led to the establishment of a new proposed industrial rail park in Lincoln County. The park’s establishment will serve as an additional tool to recruit new industries in the North Platte area, which will compliment a number of additional business parks with highway and air transportation opportunities. A $100,000 environmental studies and master planning effort is currently underway through the Nebraska Public Power District’s (NPPD) Site Ready Assistance Program, made possible by a $25,000 NPPD planning grant and a local $75,000 Quality Growth Fund grant.

An additional enhancement to air service was accomplished by the City of North Platte Airport Authority, with the recruitment of United Express Airlines/Sky West creating twice-daily direct flights in and out of Denver.

North Platte Area Chamber and Development President and CEO Gary Person says leaders’ ongoing collaboration exemplifies the community’s overall strategy for economic growth.

“I’m proud of our team for taking this process to heart and setting a standard of excellence in our approach to economic development,” Person said. “The North Platte area has a strong private-public partnership, and it works.  When you have community leaders pulling in the same direction you can get things done, instead of fighting turf protection battles. We have laid some significant groundwork and came up with a five-year strategic action plan for 2020-2025, and we are excited to act upon each of those 29 specific goals. It will be critical to pass the renewal of the LB840 Quality Growth Fund in November to carry out many of these goals.”

The Chamber and Development Corporation’s “Shot in the Arm” housing incentive program continues to provide new living opportunities for local families. Since its inception, the program has established 60 new single-family speculative units and a 48-unit multifamily development project. Phase two of the project came to fruition through local and state partnerships totaling $1.2 million in incentives, including $383,400 in assistance from the State of Nebraska’s Rural Workforce Housing Fund (RWHF). The City of North Platte’s LB840 fund, Chamber and Development Investment Partners, Union Pacific Railroad and Great Plains Health (GPH) generated remaining investments for the project.

Successful efforts in establishing North Platte as a Regional Medical Center were made possible by a $125 million new medical facility at GPH. Since the tower completion in 2015, GPH has been recognized regionally and nationally for innovative developments in the facility’s medical services and hospital’s patient services. Vetter Health Services’ expansion of the facility’s short and long-term service capabilities also positively impacted the medical community. GPH, Mid-Plains Community College (MPCC) and the University of Nebraska Medical Center were instrumental in implementing a new, certified four-year nursing program to compliment an existing two-year nursing program.

Career Academies established at North Platte Public Schools have increased student exposure to vocational and business training opportunities. The program has encouraged partnerships with 66 local businesses, engaging youth in internships, job shadowing and workforce development training.

Over the past five years, local investors established 121 businesses and nearly 900 jobs in North Platte. In addition, the community has been positively impacted by $142 million in capital investments. Since 2015, the costs of 27 commercial projects have exceeded $500,000 apiece.

“The Economic Development Certified Community status for North Platte is an important standard for us to achieve; it demonstrates our preparedness to meet the challenges of growing and developing our local economy,” said North Platte Mayor Dwight Livingston. “This accomplishment also is a testament to the outstanding cooperation between our city, county and schools — all working together as a team with our local business community and its leadership. The preparation, hard work and dedication that was needed to achieve this certification also prepares us strategically to move forward over the next five years; I feel confident we are moving the community in a positive direction.”

The Chamber and Development Corporation led recent efforts to assist local businesses in response to COVID-19 through the Quality Growth Fund. A technical assistance incentive program connected proprietors with financial institutions to apply for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans. The Chamber and Development Corporation provided additional help through a gift card business boost program, which offered up to $2,000 in gift card reimbursements for local merchants. The programs have aided 227 area businesses so far.

Chamber and Development Corporation Board Chairman Dr. Rich Raska said the community’s vast leadership continues to drive growth in the area, and played a role in the City’s most recent EDCC designation.

“This has been a direct result of the tireless efforts of our Board of Directors, committees, and our hard-working staff over the past five years,” Dr. Raska said. “I commend the work of the countless hours of strategic planning and look forward to North Platte achieving economic success in the years to come.”

For additional information on the Economic Development Certified Community Program, Contact Ashley Rice-Gerlach at 308-655-0919 or ashley.gerlach@nebraska.gov; or visit https://opportunity.nebraska.gov/program/economic-development-certified-community-edcc/.