Saving hometown living requires focused planning

Friday, May 25, 2007

Have you heard about a relatively new community uplift program called "HomeTown Competitiveness?"

We're asking because it's a program which will soon begin to have a big effect on the McCook area. This was assured this week when the McCook Economic Development Corp. agreed to join the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in funding Phase II of the HTC program in McCook.

So what is HomeTown Competitiveness? It's a four-part program developed in Nebraska by community specialists who have witnessed the decline of many of the state's rural communities.

"Something must be done," the specialists agreed. "A precious way of life -- hometown living -- is being threatened because job opportunities are lacking, young people are moving away and the average age of rural residents is increasing at a rapid rate."

The Nebraskans -- including Don Macke and Craig Schroeder of the RUPRI Center for Rural Enterprise, Jeff Yost of the Nebraska Community Foundation and Milan Wall of the Heartland Center for Leadership -- conceived a program with four main parts. To generate activity in small communities, they determined that special attention must be paid to four essential points, or pillars: 1. Leadership; 2. Philantrophy; 3. Youth Retention; and 4. Entrepreneurship.

By pinpointing the areas of concern, the Nebraska community development leaders hit upon the heart of what ails the small cities, towns and villages of rural America. Their thinking was so on target that it attracted the attention of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, which has given several million dollars to the Nebraska Community Foundation in support of HomeTown Competitiveness.

The McCook community is a direct beneficiary of the Kellogg Grant. Phase I, already completed, was financed by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in association with the Institute established by U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson.

The Kellogg Foundation also is providing support for Phase II, agreeing to cover $50,000 of McCook's costs for implementing the HomeTown Competitiveness program.

McCook must match the grant -- with contributions of time and money -- but the community is well on the way to doing that because of the $25,000 Hormel business prize and a monetary commitment from the McCook Economic Development Corp.

A McCook team is being put together to carry the HomeTown Competitiveness forward. The encouraging thing is that the core group includes a cross section of McCook's major organizations, including Mark Graff and Denise Ringenberg of the McCook Community Foundation, Rex Nelson of the McCook Economic Development Corp., Aaron Kircher and Kurt Fritsch of the City of McCook, Pam Harsh of the McCook Area Chamber of Commerce, Leigh Hoyt of Red Willow County, Kent Been of the Extension Service, Fred Gleason of the McCook City Schools, Jim Ulrich of Community Hospital, Stephanie Gunter of the McCook College Foundation, Terri Shipshock of the Community Hospital Foundation, Tor Olson of Lied Main Street and Stacie Shaddock of McCook College.

More help is needed ... much more ... if McCook is take advantage of this opportunity to raise McCook to a new level of excellence in hometown living. "We need as many people as possible to take part in the HomeTown Competitiveness effort," said Mark Graff. "If we all pitch in, this program can be a great thing for our community."

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