Visions News

USDA Grant Supports Rural Community Prosperity in Northwest Nebraska

The Heartland Center for Leadership Development has received a grant from USDA Rural Development to promote rural community prosperity in three counties in northwest Nebraska. The grant supports technical assistance to communities in Sioux, Dawes and Sheridan Counties.

The assistance is provided by a coalition of agencies, including the University of Nebraska, the Northwest Nebraska Development Corporation and Discover Northwest Nebraska. “This is great news for our communities and the entire region,” said Deb Cottier, executive director of Northwest Nebraska Development. “We are looking forward to moving this project into high gear.”

One of the priorities is regional tourism development, noted Kerri Rempp, executive director of Discover Northwest Nebraska. “We are thrilled about this project,” said Rempp, “especially given the setbacks to tourism traffic that have resulted from the pandemic.”
“This is really exciting for our region and especially our rural communities,” said Jenny Nixon, who describes herself as “passionate about the vitality of rural communities in Nebraska.” Nixon is a Nebraska Extension Educator from Crawford and a member of the Rural Prosperity Nebraska team. 

The project is one of the first undertaken by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln under the banner of Rural Prosperity Nebraska. Rural community prosperity has been cited by University of Nebraska System President Ted Carter as a key element of his strategic plan for the university. “When rural Nebraska is successful, the entire state is successful,” President Carter said in a statement released after his investiture as the university system’s chief executive.

The project will focus not only on tourism, but also on attracting and retaining residents, improving community and regional amenities, business growth and leadership development. The project began in the fall of 2020 and is expected to continue for up to three years. 

The USDA grant was awarded to the Heartland Center for Leadership Development, a Lincoln-based nonprofit, which will facilitate grant-supported activities in cooperation with Nebraska Extension, and regional and state partners. A steering committee representing the partners has been formed, and it is implementing project priorities. 

The grant is awarded through USDA’s Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI), which stresses capacity building with partners at the regional and local levels. One focus of the project is community resiliency, as this region of Nebraska experienced flooding in the spring of 2019 and is now dealing with the impacts of the pandemic.

At the same time, it is the home of a variety of tourist attractions, including Fort Robinson state historical park, the Museum of the Fur Trade, Agate Fossil Beds and Toadstool Park. And the region is a gateway to the Black Hills in South Dakota.