Regional government officials are working to reboot the Western Nebraska Economic Development group in an effort to promote regional economic development.
Scottsbluff Mayor Raymond Gonzales and Gering Mayor Tony Kaufman drafted a letter inviting regional elected or appointed officials and economic development service providers to a reorganizational meeting Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Scottsbluff City Council chambers.
A 2014 study by Thomas P. Miller and Associates recommended a regional group such as WNED to help establish regional priorities and promote efficiencies among different municipalities. WNED was originally established in 2015 and met for approximately three years before losing steam with meetings where there weren’t enough people for a quorum and activity slowed.
Scottsbluff Economic Development Director Starr Lehl said she’s encouraging elected officials from different municipalities to attend as the organization is rebooted in order to have a forum to exchange ideas going forward.
“I think that’s really vital that communities share information on maybe something that they’re struggling with that maybe another community could help them out or they’ve experienced,” Lehl said. “I just don’t think there’s enough communication between all the entities in the region.”
Lehl said WNED was previously able to facilitate a regional housing study that showed a need for housing in Kimball, Morrill and Scotts Bluff counties. With the assistance of WNED member communities, Bayard and Kimball were able to become Leadership Certified Communities through the Department of Economic Development and develop a strategic plan. Lehl hopes that a couple of other communities might achieve that same certification down the road.
Part of the goal for WNED is to show officials what resources are available.
“There are several economic development resources out there for people to take advantage of, and I think that’s something that can be done on a regional level, such as business retention and expansion surveys,” Lehl said. “We have really important businesses in all of our communities. We need to hear that voice and go in and sit down one-on-one and talk to those businesses about what’s going on in their businesses. How can the city, village help them grow their business if there’s something they need help with? Just to let them know some of the local, regional and state resources that are available to them.”
Municipalities within WNED are able to address regional issues with a unified voice on a state level.
“Something that should be really important is to have a unified voice down at the Legislature that someone can go down there and say, ‘I represent western Nebraska, and this is how we feel on this particular issue,’” Lehl said. “I think that’s really important. A lot of times, some of the cities and villages can’t really afford to send somebody down there to testify. It’s two or three days out of your schedule, plus the cost of driving down there, hotel room, all that. Again, we want the smaller communities to know how important they are to the economy of the entire region and help them have that strong voice.”