BRIDGEPORT — While remaining a small town, Bridgeport has managed to attract big city business and amenities.
“For a small community, we are more than holding our own,” Mayor Charlie Browne said. “We have some empty businesses along the Main Street, but actually compared to a lot of little communities, there are very few.”
In addition to multiple feedlots in Morrill County, large employers such as Bridgeport Ethanol, Morrill County Community Hospital, Trinidad Bean and Elevator, New Alliance Bean and Grain and the Bridgeport Public Schools provide jobs not only for the residents of Bridgeport, but for commuters from outside communities as well.
“There’s a lot of people who work here during the day that don’t live here,” Browne said. “But they take advantage of the services. ... We’re big enough that we have a dentist here in town full time. We have Webb Eyecare, and the services at the hospital are just overwhelming. They can do an awful lot, and that’s important in this community, and mostly important for the senior citizens. Instead of driving 36 or 38 miles to the hospital in Scottsbluff, they drive three or four blocks.”
Agricultural employers are vital to the success of Bridgeport, Browne said.
“If it wasn’t for the farming community, we wouldn’t be here,” he said. “For the farming community, we have John Deere Century 21 at the edge of town. ... Right now we have a good support system in town. We have, I think, a strong agricultural community, although they’re fighting the same fight every other farmer is fighting.”
The strong ag community and large employers combined with the services, restaurants and other amenities in town, speaks well for the future.
“They need supplies on the feedlots, they also need employees on the feedlots,” Browne said. “So again, that feeds into here. Those families on the feedlots have got to feed their families. They’re going to buy their groceries here in town. They’re going to see the eye doctor here in town. With their cuts and scrapes and things, they’re at the hospital. It’s self-sufficient to a big part.”
The obstacles in front of the people of Bridgeport are not uncommon across the country — such as a fire station that will eventually need to be replaced and an aging infrastructure.
“Like any other community in the United States, the infrastructure needs attention,” Browne said. “The water, the sewer, the storm drains, but we’re no different than anybody else. The systems that were put in were put in years and years and years ago, and now they’re falling apart or they’re just not adequate, one of the two. I don’t know that that’s bad — it’s something that needs to be addressed, and it’s hardly unique.”
Activities in the community keep the residents engaged with Camp Clarke Days in the summer, Ducks Unlimited Banquet in the fall and Bridgeport State Recreation Area on the edge of town. The Community Center is home to meeting rooms, a large gymnasium and kitchen with staff on site. Browne referred to the community center as the linchpin of the community given all of the events it hosts.
Bridgeport is not immune to crime and drug issues any more so than any other community. Rather than a traditional police force, the community contracts with the Morrill County Sheriff’s Department for service.
“That works real well,” Browne said. “Aside from having those folks on duty 24/7, financially, it’s a savings for the community, so it’s a win-win deal. We have the sheriff’s protection, and it becomes manageable in the budget because it becomes a line item.”
The outlook is strong, according to Browne, but not without challenges.
“Could it be better? Every little community could be better, every city could be better,” he said. “If we had no empty buildings in downtown Bridgeport, it would be super. That’s a struggle every one of us is fighting.”