Conference emphasizes individual
Every young person is important, and improving technological opportunities may be one way to keep more of them in Southwest Nebraska.
The thread of that idea spontaneously wound its way through presentations by speakers ranging from local business people to a Kansas Judge and a U.S. Congressman. They all took part in the second TeleFuture Conference Thursday at True Hall on the McCook Community College campus, sponsored by the Southwest Nebraska Resource Conservation and Development District and the McCook Economic Development Corp.
"Value those around you, and you will treat people differently," said keynote speaker Tom Webb, district magistrate judge for the 26th Judicial District in Sublette, Kan. "If we choose to make a difference, we need men and women who care," he said.
Webb, who has a degree in clinical counseling and has been a Nazarene minister, led his audience of more than 60 through snippets of his life story. It started in a shack in a colony of camp followers outside a Marine base in Korea.
"Talk about mass confusion -- that was Father's Day," he quipped. Tired of sleeping outdoors or in dumpsters and scrounging for tobacco as a bribe for his mother to give him some food, he ran away.
Reaching Seoul, South Korea's capital, where he stole lunches from travelers for three days to survive.
On the third day, caught by a policeman, he was given the choice of going with the policeman or with a gray-haired woman who gave him a piece of candy.
The woman turned out to be part of the Holt adoption agency. At the orphanage, he was taught to brush his teeth, which a doctor examined to try to determine his age. After the estimate, he was given a calendar and allowed to pick out his own birthday.
In June 1959, at age 7, he was the oldest of a plane load of Korean orphans flown to Portland, Ore., for adoption.
After meeting his new adoptive father, Roy Webb, Tom devoured plate after plate of hamburgers and french fries, then stuffed his pockets with french fries when the meal was done. When the waitress brought doggie bags, Tom decided that was how Americans carried their extra food.
Growing up in Tulsa, Okla., Webb played high school football and served in the U.S. Marine Corps. As part of a story about his purchase of a set of china from Japan, Webb compared the dishes valued so much by his wife, to the paper plates we throw away at the end of a meal.
He also recalled accompanying his mother to visit the parent of one of her students, in a bad part of town. After the huge, gruff man thanked her for caring about his son, Webb's 5-foot 2-inch mother admonished him sternly to be at the next parent-teacher conference.
"Value those you have in your home," he urged. "Value each other and care about those around you."
The "unraveling of our culture" decline of values is one of the greatest challenges facing our society, U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne said as the final speaker of the day. In light of lower moral standards, one may question the "quality of the character of our young people and whether they're going to be able to pull it off."
He pointed to the rapid decline of civilizations ranging from ancient Greece to the Soviet Union as examples of how dissolution can end a civilization in a generation or less.
Two other concerns Osborne had when he sought office were the struggle of agriculture, and the loss of population and specifically young people.
"Farms and ranches aren't getting any smaller," Osborne said, "and unless we diversify, (young people) are going to keep leaving."
Young people cost $70,000 to $75,000 each to educate, and two-thirds to three-fourths of them leave the state once their education is complete.
One hundred years ago, the key to economic development was the railroad, he said. Sixty years ago, it was the highway. Today, it's broadband Internet access, Osborne said. While he has worked to obtain such service in the 3rd District, the congressman said his perspective has shifted. "I've become convinced that (broadband) is coming, but the biggest obstacle is having enough people in a community who are computer literate to justify the expense," he said. That's where McCook Community College and North Platte Community College come in, he said. "You have to have the technology available, train them to use it and then to be able to apply it to their business."
Nebraska has a long way to go, Osborne said, ranking 32nd in state high-tech employment, and 35th in high-tech wages, according the the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, he said. If Omaha and Lincoln are removed from those statistics, that leaves the 3rd District in even a worse position, the congressman said, one that must be rectified.
The state is 42nd in venture capital investment, he added. Osborne said if there's one key to economic development, "usually it is leadership."
He said successful communities usually have the services of a full time economic developer, even if it requires a half-cent sales tax to fund the position. A good community profile, available on the Internet, is also vital, he said. E-commerce also offers hope for economic development, he said, citing a lawyer who telecommutes to Texas, a cattle producer who sells organically-raised cattle for some $400 above market and a jelly producer in the Sandhills. Distance learning and telemedicine are also important services made possible by broadband Internet service, he said.
But at Thursday's event, Congressman Osborne was preaching to the choir.
Participants heard from J. Richard Shoemaker of Pinpoint Communications, who outlined his hopes of bringing broadband service to Southwest Nebraska; Jim and Marilyn Gaster and their son, Jeremy, who market authentic reproductions of wooden buckets and other containers over the Internet; Skip Cunningham of Olsen's Agricultural Laboratory and a Certified Microsoft Professional; Ginger marcinkowski, director of the innovative "Community Concierge" program known as PositivelyPella.com in Pella, Iowa; and Shawn Bauer, automotive sales manager for Golight Inc. of Culbertson, which invented and markets remote control spotlights and other products.
Also speaking were Jennie Martin of Digital IMS Inc. of Lincoln, who also built and maintains a Web site for her parents' grocery store in Cambridge; Jon Wacker, president of Professional Computer Services of McCook; Greg Hoffman, vice president of Pinpoint Wireless Inc. of Cambridge; Tom Moss of Palisade, who explained search engines, and Kay Lavene, executive director of the McCook Economic Development Corp.