Below is my written testimony in support of LR226, a legislative resolution that would establish a study on population decline. I, along with Heather Sikyta (a local attorney and the VP of the Chamber Board of Directors), will be testifying tomorrow in Kearney on behalf of this bill. Let us know what you think: does rural population decline warrant a significant look from the Nebraska Legislature? ~ Caleb
Testimony of Caleb Pollard
Before the Revenue and Education Committees, supporting LR226
Chairman Cornett and members of the Revenue Committee, my name is Caleb Pollard, Executive Director of Valley County Economic Development and the Ord Area Chamber of Commerce. I am also a constituent of District 41, a rural legislative district very familiar with the fall-out from rural population decline.
I represent the business interests of 200 rural businesses IN SUPPORT of LR226. I represent rural businesses that are at a cross roads: do they make key investments that will create jobs? Or do they play the safe card and cash out at retirement, accelerating the economic decline of rural Nebraska?
The interim study authorized by this effort would go a long way in addressing population decline as more than just some symptom of some greater illness. This study treats population decline as the illness, the main economic threat to the vitality of rural Nebraska.
In rural Nebraska, governance, public services, taxation, business development, education and entrepreneurship has EVERYTHING to do with population. We all know this.
For us, population is our litmus test. Do we build a new school, invest in creating new jobs, expand an existing business or make critical infrastructural investments in other community services?
At my organization, population growth is our single most important metric of success. Are the goals we establish in rural economic development meeting those objectives? I hope so, but certainly our efforts can be better supported.
When we look at our toolbox, are we as competitive as we can be? Do we have the resources to be competitive? In Valley County, I’m working against NINETY years of double digit decline. Local resources alone can’t stem the tide. We need assistance that is bold, new and creative to address a very real economic problem in rural Nebraska.
According to a news release from Governor Heineman earlier this year, the Nebraska Advantage program has been a sterling success of economic development policy. Billions of dollars have been invested in Nebraska since its inception. It represents a pro-business mindset that has made Nebraska competitive on a global scale.
While sixty-five percent of Advantage credits have gone to the Lincoln-Omaha metro only 35% of projects have gone to rural Nebraska. I’m willing to bet if you took a closer look at communities under 20,000 in population, that number would be much less.
Rural communities do NOT have access to the same tool chest as other communities who are more fortunate based off of population or geography.
I think the Advantage Act is a fantastic program. I do. To think this can apply to rural places with equity is foolish. Growing jobs in rural places demands different measures, approaches and solutions. LR226 presents an opportunity to be creative and solve rural population decline.
Already the Nebraska Office of Rural Health has student loan forgiveness programs for certain qualifying health professionals. In Ord and Valley County, we have a dearth of young professional talent. With college students graduating with significantly higher loan debt, programs such as this make sense.
In this historic recession, our ability to out-compete regions with chronic unemployment and a lack of jobs is critical. America has always been defined by change and its reaction to it. In Valley County, we’re faced with historic workforce shortages. Simply put, we need people.
This study can establish the base point at being serious about population decline and the future for rural Nebraska. Please take this opportunity to look at measures to build rural Nebraska in a new light.
Thank you for your time.