White Paper: The Future of Leadership, Technology & Rural-Urban Collaboration


The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska believes for America to thrive, our rural residents and communities must thrive. We’ve learned that growing a vibrant rural sector takes:

  • Future-focused leadership and entrepreneurship
  • Social as well as technological capital and connectedness
  • The wise use of natural, agricultural and cultural resources
  • Rich collaborations

As our high-tech, globalized world continues to collide with the values, principles and ethics of humanity, RFI breaks into the currently polarizing narratives of the rural-urban divide, technology development and the future of work through its weekly podcast, “Rural Futures with Dr. Connie” available on iTunes and Stitcher.

Hosted by Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., RFI Interim Executive Director & Chief Futurist, the Rural Futures Podcast Season 1 includes 10 episodes with guest interviews of futurists, researchers and rural mavericks who are smashing barriers for a thriving rural-urban future. With Dr. Connie, guests dissect the evolving roles and tools of leadership, technology and collaboration in our exponentially changing world to help listeners explore potential solutions and embrace opportunities.

With patience, intelligence, experience and innovation, Dr. Connie believes people can come together, find areas of commonality and build toward solutions that take us to a future of abundance for all.

In many cases, solutions involve strong leadership, right-sized technology and better rural-urban collaboration. What does that mean exactly? Each guest shared ideas that often combined with Dr. Connie’s to uncover exciting new perspectives and potential courses of action.


Access White Paper


Rural Futures with Dr. Connie Season 1 Guests:

  • Bryan Alexander, Higher Education Futurist
  • Shelley McKinley, General Manager of Technology & Corporate Responsibility at Microsoft
  • Tom Field, Director of Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship program at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln
  • Tim Griffin, Director of Agriculture, Food and Environment at Tufts University
  • Tyler Ideus, Physical Medicine Specialist, International Rehab InstructorNebraska Farmer
  • Helen Fagan, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant, RFI Director of Leadership Engagement
  • John Roberts, Executive Director for the Nebraska Rural Health Association
  • Andy Hines, Futurist, Author and Program Coordinator, Lecturer for the Graduate Program in Foresight at the University of Houston
  • Seth Derner, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Vivayic

Nebraska SourceLink


The University of Nebraska is creating and testing a statewide online resource platform for entrepreneurs to help communities support business starts and growth.


With Nebraska Extension and the Nebraska Business Development Center, the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) is developing an online platform with U.S. SourceLink to create a one-stop, statewide entrepreneurial resources directory for use by business owners. Similar to NetWork Kansas, the platform will increase efficiency and allow for broader statewide strategies to develop entrepreneurial communities and economic impact.

“Most entrepreneurs and business owners are so busy running their business that they are generally unaware of the many resources available,” said Shawn Kaskie, RFI Outreach Project Coordinator. “This system will streamline awareness and access to these resources and spend more time growing their business and Nebraska’s economy.”

Based on preliminary [research? conversations with communities and business owners?] during the past two years, the project team [link to contributors] has determined a tangible strategy is needed to create, implement and sustain a statewide system that allows for ready and easy access to business development resources.

[Is there a number of already available resources that has been identified to help provide context and substantiation as to why something like this would be useful to entrepreneurs?]

[Could I quote a business owner in Nebraska who is already excited about this? Or one from Kansas that the team knows about who could provide some substantiation to this efforts’ importance to the target audience?]

Funding for the development of a prototype U.S. SourceLink system has been provided by [?]. The prototype will initially focus on harnessing the University of Nebraska’s significant resources for entrepreneurs [is there a number to quantify this? Would be great for NU to have this!]. Once fine-tuned, partners from across the state will be welcomed [and incentivized? Why should they want to join? Let’s start getting them excited!] to create a sustained statewide infrastructure.

“The timing of this work is critically important, and we have found a great demand for a statewide infrastructure that will organize and free-up under-resourced, unsustainable and duplicative platforms,” Kaskie said.

[Call to action — is there something the team would like RFI to help recruit participants for at this point? Is there a place readers can go for more information? How can RFI help from a comm perspective?]



Break down of estimated project milestone dates (months are fine). Doesn’t have to be a crazy detailed list, but what would be of interest to a local business owner who is excited about this and/or internal NU administration to demonstrate movement/progress.



  • Don Macke, title
  • Connie Hancock, title
  • Cathy Lange, title
  • Traci Williams, title
  • Shawn Kaskie, RFI Outreach Program Coordinator; University of Nebraska at Kearney Center for Entrepreneurship and Rural Development
  • Five private sector leaders
  • Representatives from Nebraska Development of Education
  • Regional Community College system
  • Nebraska Department of Economic Development

The Rural Futures Institute has contributed to this project by investing 40 percent of Shawn Kaskie’s time. Kaski’s knowledge, experience and connections throughout the state are a tremendous asset to the project’s success.

Nebraska Statewide Barometer


Tracking the sources of and trends in the state’s economic growth, an interdisciplinary University of Nebraska (NU) research team is developing an economic barometer and regional growth model as well as measuring the influence of business activity of rural Nebraska.


The University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) Bureau of Business Research (Bureau) is engaged in tracking the sources of and trends in economic growth within the state of Nebraska. These efforts have included recent projects to develop economic barometers to benchmark economic growth and resources in the state’s two largest metropolitan areas. Research into the sources of growth has examined how growth is influenced by amenities enjoyed by both business and households, and linkages between industries located throughout the state.

[Mini Graphic]
Omaha, Neb.
The Barometer
An economic scorecard of the Omaha region

[Mini Graphic]
Lincoln, Neb.
Lincoln Economic Dashboard

Now, an expanded research team from UNL, University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK), Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska and Nebraska Extension, is bringing this type of barometer analysis to all regions throughout the state of Nebraska. While data availability is more limited in non-metropolitan areas, many of the measures of growth, human capital, public infrastructure, entrepreneurship, quality of life and cost of doing business will be available for all Nebraska counties.

The goal is to compare Nebraska regions with peers located primarily in other states, although some may be other Nebraska regions, to provide an idea of where the region excels or lags.

Nebraska regions are currently being developed with an understanding of the work of Nebraska Extension’s Community Vitality Initiative. Potential peer regions will be selected using a regional matching technique with local input on the final choice of peers.

Ki will ask Eric for this: “Pull quote from Eric about why it is important for NU to do this type of work,” said Eric Thompson, TITLE. “Quote.”

In true RFI Nexus fashion, the Bureau also has expanded undergraduate research opportunities in business and economics with the the Bureau Scholars program during the 2017-18 academic year. For this project, a UNK undergraduate research assistant position has also been created.

RFI is proud to have convened and funded this project to provide rural Nebraska’s leaders with [adjective] data that can information decisions for growth of the region. Continuing to support undergraduate research while providing its expertise in working directly with leadership in rural communities is also a constant objective met by the Institute through this project.

“Regular quote from Connie,” said Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., Interim Executive Director. “Quote.”


DRAFT Identified Deliverables


Develop an economic barometer for defined Nebraska regions, which would benchmark recent trends in that region against similar regions in Nebraska and nearby states.


Develop a regional growth model (within a supply and demand framework), which would show how the development of household quality of life amenities influence the employment and population growth of defined regions.


Measure the influence of business activity in rural Nebraska on employment in the Nebraska metropolitan areas of Lincoln and Omaha, utilizing the inter-regional feature of the IMPLAN model.

Create a printed version as well as interactive web tool to display results that can be used by regional leadership to take action.



Estimated major milestones and expected delivery date of deliverables above.



  • (PI) Eric Thompson, Ph.D., Director of the Bureau of Business Research and Professor in the Department of Economics, College of Business, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
  • (Co-PI) Bree Dority, Ph.D., Associate Dean of the College of Business & Technology and an Associate Professor of Fiance, University of Nebraska at Kearney
  • Mitchel Herian, Ph.D., Senior Research Associate, Bureau of Business Research, College of Business, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
  • Don Macke, CVI Program Leader, Nebraska Extension, University of Nebraska – Lincoln & Co-Director, Center for Rural Entrepreneurship
  • L. J. McElravy, Assistant Professor and Graduate Chair, Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
  • Jason Weigle, Ph.D., Associate Extension Educator, Nebraska Extension, University of Nebraska – Lincoln
  • Kurt Mantonya, Associate Extension Educator, Nebraska Extension, University of Nebraska – Lincoln
  • Randy Cantrell, Ph. D., Community Development Specialist, Consultant, Nebraska Extension, University of Nebraska – Lincoln
  • Shawn Kaskie, Outreach Project Coordinator, Rural Futures Institute, University of Nebraska & Associate Extension Educator, Nebraska Extension, University of Nebraska – Lincoln
  • University of Nebraska–Lincoln Bureau Scholars (students)
  • University of Nebraska at Kearney undergraduate research assistant

The project is administered by Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., RFI Interim Executive Director and Chief Futurist, coordinated by RFI’s Kim Peterson and communicated by Katelyn Ideus, RFI Director of Communications & PR.

Tourism | 2018 RFI Student Serviceship


Hear how community leaders from Broken Bow, Nebraska, and Red Cloud, Nebraska, along with University of Nebraska students, created and implemented strategies related to rural tourism during 2018 RFI Student Serviceship! http://ruralfutures.nebraska.edu/2018Serviceship




Their creative ideas and solutions and their vision for the future are inspiring!


💪 “[The students] didn’t leave anything off the table. They shot high. I think one thing that rural communities do sometimes is we set the bar too low.” — Andrew Ambriz


A HUGE thank you to two lead mentors and community leaders we are constantly learning from:


Andrew Ambriz, Executive Director, Custer Economic Development Corporation (CEDC)

Jarrod McCartney, Director, Heritage Tourism Director


And a shout out to these stellar NU students and their 22 peers who also participated in serviceship this summer.


Jessica Weeder, argibusiness, UNL College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources (CASNR)

Leanne Gamet, agricultural and environmental sciences communication, CASNR

Trenton Burh, political science, Nebraska College of Arts and Sciences

Trevor Harlow, political science & environmental studies, UNO College of Arts and Sciences


📹: Karina Hernadez, Summer 2018 RFI Communications Intern and May 2018 UNL College of Journalism and Mass Communications Graduate!