State of Nebraska officials announced this week that Ogallala, Neb. (Pop. 4,620) has earned recertification as a Nebraska Economic Development Certified Community (EDCC). Starr Lehl, Business Development Consultant with the Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED), recognized the community’s efforts at Ogallala’s City Council meeting on April 26. Prior to this month’s recertification, the city earned initial certification in February 2007 and was recertified in 2010.
Ogallala is one of 38 communities to earn EDCC certification in the program, which is sponsored by the Nebraska Diplomats and administered by DED. State officials established the program in 2005 to recognize communities for their 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, local financing and incentive programs, and a strategic plan for economic development, such as implementing a progressive strategy to grow the community’s labor market.
“Over the past five years, Ogallala has really come together through partnerships and a defined strategic plan to accomplish our economic development goals,” said Eric Duhachek, President of Keith County Area Development (KCAD). “This recertification shows a dedication by our community to achieve a higher standard in best practices.”
Recent collaboration between local and regional leaders continues to connect the community to economic and educational development opportunities. In 2010, members of KCAD began efforts on a $1 million investment project to expand Mid-Plains Community College’s Ogallala Extended Campus. KCAD facilitated the project through the purchase and remodel of a vacant building, and later deeded it to the college to implement expansion efforts. Collaboration between the college, KCAD, and the Keith County Chamber of Commerce led to an updated curriculum on the extended campus, including workforce development meetings, training seminars, Red Carpet Customer Service Training, and CDL courses.
“Ogallala did an amazing job rallying around this project that enhanced educational opportunities for our citizens. The project was funded in part by local donors and financial institutions, a variety of grants, city and county contributions, and the college,” said Drew Krab, Past President and current KCAD Board Member. “The college has done a tremendous job utilizing this new asset.”
In an effort to retain and attract top talent in Keith County, KCAD has partnered with local businesses to create a tuition reimbursement program for recent graduates of an in-state community college. KCAD developed the program based on a need for skilled workforce development, which was highlighted during area business retention and expansion visits in coordination with DED. The program includes a two-year tuition reimbursement for graduates who hold an associate degree or community college diploma and are employed with one of the program’s partnering businesses.
“Keith County’s efforts to align educated Nebraskans with local business leaders encourage local economic development,” said Nebraska Diplomats President Dean Hart. “By establishing these connections, employers and employees will have new opportunities to build strong relationships – and our state’s workforce – for years to come.”
Over the past five years, KCAD and the City of Ogallala have been instrumental in supporting community growth through the creation of seven new businesses and 202 new jobs, as well as 27 new jobs spurred by eight existing business expansion projects.
“The Ogallala/Keith County Chamber of Commerce has worked hard to provide support and promotion for all of our retail businesses,” said Chamber Director Lori Wortman. “By partnering with MPCC, KCAD, the City of Ogallala and local retailers, we are able to provide various training seminars for managers and employees. We are also working diligently to promote our downtown and the Rendezvous Square, which we believe will showcase the businesses that are centered in this community.”
Construction of a new Dollar General store was recently completed along Highway 30 with support from the Community Redevelopment Authority using Tax Increment Financing. Additionally, KCAD purchased the abandoned Lakeway Lodge Motel to create an opportunity for new housing construction. A local housing developer purchased the land and has completed one housing unit, with plans for two additional market rate units on-site.
Since 2010, the community has sold seven lots at the Ogallala Business Park, which increased the assessed value of the park from $99,000 in 2010 to $1,955,000 in 2015. KCAD Executive Director Travis Haggard pointed out the community’s extensive teamwork in attracting new businesses, which continues to serve as an important component in economic growth.
“Economic Development is a community-wide effort, and we are fortunate to have more than 50 committed volunteers dedicated to this cause,” said Haggard. “We truly are a blessed community. Through partnerships and collaborative efforts, Ogallala and Keith County have had many great successes, and our future looks brighter than ever.”
Contact Lynn Kohout at 402-440-2559, or firstname.lastname@example.org , or visit https://opportunity.nebraska.gov/economic-development-certified-community for additional information on the Economic Development Certified Community Program.