What does the New Year hold?

Saturday, January 3, 2004

OK, the New Year's here. So what can we expect? Will the local and area economy pick up steam, or will we be lucky to hold our own?

Throughout the town and region, people are wondering about those close-to-home kind of money matters, because -- to a large extent -- our individual financial well-being is determined by the health of area agriculture, business and industrial enterprises.

So what's the outlook? What does 2004 hold for us? It's hard to speak for 40,000 people spread over 12 counties, which is the approximate size of the Gazette's circulation area, but, given the tough times we have been through, there is hope that things are going to get better.

We say that despite the scary lack of precipitation ("Will we ever get significant amounts of moisture again?) and the Mad Cow Scare ("What a bummer for the cattle industry which, ever so briefly, was getting record prices for beef.") If those two things -- drought-breaking rains and a return to high beef prices -- do happen, 2004 will be the closest thing to a boom we have had since 9/11.

And, even if they don't, the area's economy could be even with, or a little ahead of, the past two years. Helping the outlook are some things we have spoken about before, and some we haven't:

1. The ethanol plant east of Trenton. That's a biggie. When it gets rolling in March or April, new jobs will be created, and farmers will start getting a few cents more per bushel for their corn and milo.

2. Two cutting-edge companies will make their debut in Southwest Nebraska in 2004. They are 21st Century Systems, which will launch tests of computer equipment for military vehicles, and Critical Care Life Flight Corp., which will begin flights for patients needing emergency medical care. The firms join Odyssey Research Services, which began pharmaceutical testing in McCook a year ago.

3. The continued growth of Community Hospital, with expanded physician and specialist care adding to the hospital's services. The health center's role will be further enhanced by improved funding for Medicare services, made possible by federal legislation passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President George W. Bush in 2003.

4. An expanded role for McCook Community College, spearheaded by Dr. Michael Chipps, new president of the Mid-Plains Area, and Dr. Richard Tubbs, vice president for McCook Community College. With the guidance and encouragement of the area board, the college administrators are striving to make the colleges in McCook and North Platte, and the attendance center in Imperial and other towns, of greater service to college age and adult students.


Add to this list a number of other potential community, retail and industrial projects, and you have the makings of a dynamic year for the local and area economy. Do that and one other thing: Pray for plentiful moisture and good cattle prices! If you do, and all falls into place, this area's economy could be the best it's been in years.

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