McCook has long history of public-private development efforts

Monday, May 2, 2016

A posting on the popular Facebook page, "Remember When in McCook, Nebraska" shows that economic development has been part of our town since the beginning.

"How We Build a New City In The Far West and Offer Rare Chances for the Artisan, Tradesman & Speculator" reads the headline on a notice in the McCook Weekly Tribune of Jan. 31, 1884.

The text shows a combination public and private development funding in the establishment of the town, the same types of funding required for economic development today.

"In Red Willow County, Nebraska, has been surveyed, and lots in the market, for just one year and has now a population of 1000 people.

"The point has been designated by the C. B. & Q. as the DIVISION STATION between the MISSOURI RIVER & DENVER, where the principal shops, a 15-stall round house and other R.R. facilities have been located on the Denver Line."

The current issue concerns the use of public funds -- sales tax funds collected under Nebraska's LB840 law, which was set up to allow cities to use the money for economic development, as well as private funding from investors and McCook Economic Development Corp. members.

Voters have approved the sales tax, but now are being asked to approve the plan for using the funds.

While more than $400,000 was collected locally last year, about $119,000 went to operate the McCook Economic Development Corp., and the rest is controlled by the City of McCook.

When the MEDC needed money to purchase property for the Clary Village project, for example, it applied to the city for the use of those funds.

Should voters turn down the economic development plan next week, another means of administering LB840 funds will have to be found to use them.

LB840 requires that voters approve the tax, and approve of an economic development plan in separate ballot questions.

The 1884 article is clearly seeking private investment by marketing McCook as an attractive place to grow, but the public sector had apparently done its part as well:

"A complete system of water works costing $25,000 is just being completed, giving all the facilities for comfort possessed of old cities.

"Lots will range in price from $250 to $500 for business lots and $50 to $200 for residence lots. The history of points like McCook show an increase of more than three hundred per cent, in from one to five years, and this town promises to be an exceptional chance for investments."

McCook isn't that far removed from 1884; some of us can look to grandparents or great-grandparents who played a role in our community's early history.

By deciding whether to extend the current economic development plan to June 30, 2033, voters will help set the course for our community for generations to come.

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