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Benkelman Builds Growing Reputation as an Economic Leader
Nebraska Ag Connection - 06/14/2018

The Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED) has named the City of Benkelman (pop. 857) as the state's newest member of the State of Nebraska's Leadership Certified Community (LCC) program. DED Business Development Consultant Ashley Rice-Gerlach recognized local leaders during a special presentation at the City of Benkelman's board meeting on Tuesday.

Benkelman is Nebraska's 24th community to qualify for DED's LCC program, created in 2011 to help Nebraska communities adapt to ongoing changes and opportunities in economic development. Qualifying communities must demonstrate an understanding for and preparedness in strategic and community planning, as well as display readiness in technological development to help new and existing businesses grow. Certified communities earn designation in the program for five years and are required to update and maintain information and websites.

The City of Benkelman and CRA, Dundy County's Chamber of Commerce and Visitor's Bureau and Envision Benkelman support community-wide efforts to recruit and expand local businesses. Collaborative projects included the organizations' funding assistance for the city's new website, as well as building educational content and resources via business workshops.

The community's online presence continues to grow through its participation in the Location One (LOIS) program, which highlights available sites and buildings for new or expanding businesses. Local leaders have also implemented a Rural Community Leadership Program to showcase career and leadership opportunities for area youth.

"From local tourism to community development and business growth, partnerships like these can help promote a city's many assets," said DED's LCC Program Coordinator Kelly Gewecke. "This is particularly important in rural communities like Benkelman, where leaders have worked extensively to show that they are open for business."

Benkelman leaders actively participate in consistent Business Retention and Expansion (BRE) visits through its ongoing partnership with DED, The Benkelman Post and the Dundy County Chamber of Commerce and Development. In 2017, the city and chamber completed 20 business visits and began work on a housing and labor survey to gage locals' ideas for opportunities to promote economic development.

The Benkelman CRA has continually removed vacant and dilapidated properties in Benkelman's blighted areas to support the creation of in-fill lots, now available through the city's free-lot program. Collaboration between West Central Nebraska Development District (WCNDD), Benkelman's CRA and Wardcraft Homes led to the completion of a new home in August 2017.

"I subscribe to the idea that success is where opportunity meets preparation. DED's LCC application provided a guide that allowed the Benkelman community to take necessary steps to get prepared, so that we can act when opportunities come our way," said Benkelman CRA Coordinator Megan Spargo. "I spent more than two years compiling information, learning about the inner workings of Benkelman and implementing programs. Throughout this time, I've learned that the process of completing the application is as important as the designation itself."

DED's Ashley Rice-Gerlach serves an 18-county region in southwest Nebraska by focusing on business, housing and workforce development. In 2016, Gerlach and Spargo began efforts to prepare Benkelman for Nebraska's LCC program.

"Benkelman's economic partnerships within their city, county and state have built a new vision for growth among its business community -- as well as a great sense of area pride," Gerlach said. "As a resident of southwest Nebraska, I get to see first-hand how rural leaders work together to find creative opportunities for growth. The City of Benkelman is a wonderful example of progress in our state, and will continue to be for years to come."

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