Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Elwood, Neb. Provides Examples On How Small Towns Can Improve

"Our town is too small to see any real progress." 

"No one will ever build a new home in our small town."

"We can't get people to move here. We're too small."

Sound familiar?

If anyone ever whines like that in Elwood, Neb. -- population 707 -- we're fairly certain the town as a whole responds to the whiner the way former President Reagan responded to his interrupting critics.

Like Dorchester, Elwood contains fewer than 750 people.  And like Dorchester, Elwood is about 12 minutes south of I-80 and near a packing plant community (Lexington). 

But what makes Elwood stand out are its ongoing efforts to maintain, grow and develop itself, all of which were highlighted in a story we were e-mailed.

Just look at what this small town has done to improve:
  • Elwood is the smallest of 38 communities to earn the Nebraska Department of Economic Development's certification to designate those communities that are taking important steps to attract new industries and grow existing businesses.  State officials honored village leaders last week during Elwood’s annual Chamber of Commerce banquet.
  • Among Elwood’s development programs is its “Free Lot Program,” to recruit new residents to the community through homesteading efforts.  Since 2011, the free lots spurred seven new homes and eight more lots are currently available for construction.  The program gained praise on the late Paul Harvey’s radio show and PBS’s “This Old House” television series. Consumer Reports also mentioned Elwood in an article about America’s top five towns that still offer homesteading (free land if you live there for a set number of years).
  • In addition, Elwood developed a Speculative House Risk Sharing Program, which allows contractors and home builders to share the risk of interest during a home’s construction.
  • Since 2011, program leaders have successfully recruited an attorney, a new beauty salon, and a daycare to the area.  
  • Fourteen full-time jobs have been created in several new businesses there, including the Elwood Hometown Cooperative Market, Northern Agri Service, Elwood Auto Sales, Turkey Creek Seed Solutions, Scharf Construction, and Weissert Hardwood Floors.
  • A Community Development Block Grant for downtown revitalization was secured in 2012, which resulted in the completion of a new library and rehab assistance to 12 businesses. In addition, a Nebraska Civic and Convention Center Financing Act grant began efforts to build a community wellness center spearheaded by school and village officials.
  • Private donations allowed for structural and energy improvements at the Gosper County Senior Center.
  • In 2015, the community completed a housing market study, in 2016, Elwood was selected to participate in a Nebraska Investment Finance Authority-supported initiative to create workforce housing.  Elwood is currently working with Dawson Area Development and the communities of Lexington and Cozad on a regional housing program to create a viable workforce within Gosper and Dawson Counties.
  • Over the past five years, the Elwood Area Foundation raised $55,000 annually to contribute to community improvements. The village’s Redevelopment Authority funds have also been used to recruit talent through payment assistance of student loans, housing costs, and business start-ups.
  • In 2015, voters enacted a 1% sales tax increase to fund village development projects.    
Too small to grow? Too tiny to improve? To that, Elwood, Neb. says: "Oh, shut up!" 

Nice going, Elwood.

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