Gas pipeline shows need for long-term economic investment

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A lot of building blocks have to fall into place for a community or region to survive and flourish.

A hearing before the Nebraska Public Service Commission on Tuesday is a case in point.

Norfolk city leaders want the commission to take over regulation of pipeline projects that start and end within Nebraska's borders.

Norfolk and other communities in northeast Nebraska hope state regulation will make it easier to build pipelines like one being proposed between Clay County and Columbus.

Eventually, they hope the new pipeline will be extended to Norfolk. They hope that would ensure that the town wouldn't lose a major economic prospect again.

In July, a new $40 million soybean processing plant project and 200 potential jobs went to South Sioux City because Norfolk had an inadequate supply of natural gas.

Towns like Laurel, Wayne and York, as well as Norfolk, may have missed out on ethanol and other biofuel plants because of the lack of natural gas capacity.

Hence, Tuesday's appearance before the PSC.

It's the kind of long-range effort that most of us don't think about when we're applying for a job at a local factory.

It's the kind of effort entities like the Southwest Nebraska Resource Conservation and Development Council and other 12 RC&D areas across Nebraska are involved in. The Southwest RC&D is celebrating RE&D Week this week in recognition of the national founding of the RC&D program in 1964.

Just this year, Southwest Nebraska RC&D has supported area projects like Opening the Door to Alternative Agriculture, taking place each year in Curtis; household hazardous waste collections in each county; the Women's Wilderness Weekend; Salt Cedar Goat Project in Bartley; the Republican River Riparian Partnership Project, a coalition between Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado; and the Southwest Weed Management Area.

The McCook Economic Development Corp., with the Valmont plant its current crown jewel, and other projects in process is another example of entities that look far into the future with an eye to improving the local economy.

City, county and state governments must be involved as well, along with chambers of commerce and other local organizations.

Northwest Nebraska residents are hopeful they'll make progress in bringing a better supply of natural gas to their region, opening the door to future growth.

If they do, it'll be another illustration of the fact that future economic development is worth spending money on today. If we want to attract new industry and help current industry to expand, we have to invest in the building blocks now.

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