Episode 28 | Crossing the Rural/Urban Gap With A Personal Decision

May 31, 2018

Show Notes:

Catch up with Chuck and Greater Fremont Development Council Executive Director Garry Clark as they discuss rural-urban collaboration, community investment and rural development in Nebraska and beyond. Join us!

Clark has a background in economic development and community leadership throughout both rural and urban parts of the state. Prior to his work in Nebraska, Clark started out as a city planner and economic development specialist in Florida and in Washington, D.C.

Quick Links:

Full Transcript:

[0:11] Welcome to the Rural Futures Institute [0:13] at the University of Nebraska. [0:15] I’m Chuck Schroeder, [0:16] I’m executive director of the institute, [0:18] and this is our weekly get together [0:21] with difference makers in rural Nebraska [0:23] and rural America, we call it Catch Up With Chuck, so… [0:27] I have to tell you, today, I have with me, [0:30] a guy that I’ve looked forward to having in this chair, [0:32] one of the most interesting people in the world, [0:34] as far as I’m concerned, [0:36] Garry Clark, who is the executive director [0:39] of the Greater Fremont Development Council [0:42] in Fremont, Nebraska. [0:43] Garry, thanks for joining us. [0:44] Thanks for having me, Chuck, I appreciate it. [0:46] Well, this is gonna be fun.

[0:48] Okay, so, Garry, your story is anything but [0:54] what one would expect out of a young professional [0:57] that’s now here making a difference in rural Nebraska [1:01] and investing yourself in development of rural regions. [1:04] So, I want you to help our audience understand [1:08] why I was so excited about having you on the program. [1:12] I want you to tell a little bit about your upbringing, [1:15] and the track that brought you to Nebraska. [1:18] You’re here by choice, not by chance.

[1:21] Yes, well, I started off in Washington D.C., [1:25] that was my hometown, that’s where I was born and raised, [1:28] and grew up in the 80s, [1:30] and it was a rough upbringing for me and my family. [1:33] Both my parents had some struggles with abuse [1:37] and also some huge drug abuse. [1:42] And so it painted a picture [1:44] that was really difficult for us in that community. [1:47] Luckily though, my mother was very strong [1:51] and had resolve, and when she got clean [1:55] and she had removed drugs from her life, it turned for me. [2:01] She came home one day with an application [2:03] my senior year of high school, [2:07] I was a struggling student, and she said, [2:09] I have two pamphlets here. [2:11] I had just lost my opportunity to get a scholarship, [2:14] a full scholarship to American University in Washington D.C. [2:18] and she had Midland College and Dana College in her hand, [2:22] and I took the applications. [2:24] I flew, sight unseen, in August of 1999 to Nebraska. [2:29] You were an outstanding athlete. [2:31] I mean, you had some assets… [2:34] (laughs) [2:35] And– [2:36] That helped the process. [2:37] So, sight unseen, we decided that I was gonna [2:40] go to college in Nebraska, and then the rest of my life [2:43] just changed from there. [2:45] I became a national champion at Dana College, [2:48] and a hall of fame runner just prior to them closing. [2:52] And so, it was a tremendous experience for me, [2:56] and it was a catalyst for me to find out what rural life was [3:01] and it had given me so much [3:02] that after going to graduate school [3:05] at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, [3:08] and going off and becoming a city planner [3:11] in Florida and back in D.C, Washington D.C. downtown, [3:16] my family and I, we decided to raise our kids [3:19] back here in the heartland, [3:21] and a lot of that was due to the fact that [3:24] I had such a great experience.

[3:26] I think that’s such a powerful story. [3:28] When people think about, why rural, why now, [3:33] it isn’t just a matter of, oh gee, [3:34] those poor buggers out there in those small towns need help. [3:38] There’s something special about those communities, [3:41] and the values proposition that they can create [3:44] for a family like Garry Clark’s. [3:46] I think it’s just such an important story, so… [3:50] Well listen, beginning with your economic development role [3:54] in Cuming County, we we think about Nebraska at least, [3:58] which is one of our favorite partner regions [4:01] for the Rural Futures Institute, [4:02] we’ve had a lot of fun out there. [4:04] You really have become one of Nebraska’s [4:06] most respected young professionals, [4:08] and it’s been fun to know you in that regard. [4:12] You’re a smart, talented guy [4:14] who could be successful anywhere, [4:16] and obviously, you’ve demonstrated, [4:18] you’ve lived other places, [4:19] but you’ve made this conscious choice to live [4:21] and work and grow your family right here in rural Nebraska. [4:25] You’ve talked a little bit about, again, [4:28] that values proposition, [4:29] but I’d like to know more about that story. [4:31] Were there key mentors involved [4:33] that helped drive you to that, [4:36] to make the decision to come back. [4:38] I mean, you’d gone to the big city, [4:41] and you could’ve decided, well, [4:42] this is where my opportunity is.

[4:44] Yeah, yeah definitely mentors from a college perspective. [4:49] One of my largest mentors was Robert Blair, Dr. Robert Blair [4:54] Bob Blair at the University of Nebraska Omaha. [4:57] Who’s met a fellow with us as a matter of fact. [4:59] Yes, I remember reaching out to him and saying, [5:02] hey, my family and I are thinking about moving back, [5:06] getting closer to my wife’s side of the family, [5:08] which is in Oakland, Iowa, [5:10] and he sent me some information on potential openings, [5:14] and then I found out about Cuming County through that avenue [5:19] but before that even, Dr. Ethel Williams [5:22] was one of those people who was a mentor to me, [5:25] Dr. John Bartle at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. [5:29] And then at Dana College, I had a lot of mentors [5:33] that just gave me an opening to my life [5:36] and understanding about opportunities [5:39] that I would not have had if I hadn’t [5:41] come and got on the plane sight unseen and come to Nebraska. [5:45] You know, that relationship that is established [5:49] so often with faculty members, [5:51] I mean, I can’t tell you the number of young professionals [5:55] and others that we encounter [5:57] actually in various walks of life [5:59] who will talk about Bob Blair and John Bartle, [6:02] those guys have invested so much of themselves personally [6:07] in saying, I want you to be successful. [6:10] And it’s a difference maker. [6:12] You know, the truth though, is that [6:14] even at the small college level, at Dana College, [6:18] there was a gentleman by the name of Dr. Frank Taylor [6:21] in the sociology department, [6:23] and a doctor and professor by the name of Laura LaMar [6:28] and Jan Potter, those people from Dana College, [6:31] they really inspired me to be an excellent student [6:34] in college and get on the Dean’s List [6:37] from being a 2.0 GPA high school student [6:40] to the Dean’s List several times, [6:42] so it was a community, you know, a community of people [6:46] investing in me for no reason other than to see me succeed. [6:51] So it was an awesome experience. [6:52] Well, it’s a great story.

[6:54] Well listen, you’re a genuine activator, [6:58] and one of my first experiences when I came to [7:02] The Rural Futures Institute going on five years ago [7:06] was my first engagement with Connecting Young Nebraska. [7:09] You were very much a part of creating that network [7:13] that now includes hundreds of young professionals [7:17] outside of Lincoln and Omaha [7:19] that collaborate, commiserate, partner to [7:22] make the world a better place. [7:25] I want you to talk a little bit about [7:27] what drives Garry Clark to invest yourself [7:31] so heavily in other people, in building communities [7:35] all right, but I’ve watched you encourage [7:41] other aspiring young business professionals [7:44] to see the opportunity in those communities [7:46] and think about what that means to them personally, [7:49] not just red large up here under economic opportunity, [7:55] you’ve told that story. [7:56] I want to hear what drives you to do that.

[7:59] Chuck, this is such a passionate, personal message for me [8:02] because I believe that rural life saved my life, [8:06] and so when I see young professionals thinking about, [8:09] well where should I locate, where should I raise my family, [8:12] and I’ve had such a great experience in West Point, Nebraska [8:16] in Fremont now, and even in the larger metropolitan areas [8:21] that are just surrounding these rural [8:24] oasises of hope that we have. [8:28] So I would have to say that number one, [8:30] it’s about the passion of making sure [8:32] that people know that their livelihood [8:35] can be changed dramatically when they decide [8:38] to make a decision to invest in a rural place. [8:41] And that those rural places and those people, [8:43] they invest back in you the same, [8:45] and that’s an experience I’ve had. [8:47] So I just want the same opportunity for those people [8:50] who grew up like me, or who grew up in a different format, [8:54] or who grew up in rural places and want to go back. [8:57] I just say, there’s so much opportunity there [8:59] for advancement, for growth, for leadership, [9:03] that you can’t experience that in other places the same, [9:07] and so, take a look at this rural life [9:10] and enjoy it because it’s an opportunity [9:12] for you and your family to flourish.

[9:15] Well, you are one human being whose, [9:18] not only language but your life [9:21] has been a very articulate message [9:23] on behalf of rural communities [9:26] and I’ve just seen you touch people in a way [9:29] that I think is so important, so we’re proud of you. [9:34] So, okay, now you’re providing leadership in one of [9:38] Nebraska’s really important micropolitan communities. [9:42] The Rural Futures Institute has invested in research [9:46] involving faculty at your Alma Matter, at UNO [9:49] as well as here at UNL. [9:51] Looking at the impact of these micropolitan communities [9:56] on a much larger rural region, [9:59] and we’ve had folks say, well why would you study [10:02] Fremont or Columbus, whatever, they’re not rural. [10:05] Well, actually, in the grand scheme of things, [10:07] they really are rural, [10:08] but their influence is so powerful. [10:11] So, I’d like for you to talk about your perspective [10:15] on your new home in Fremont, interesting community [10:19] that’s faced challenges, but is a beautiful, thriving [10:24] community that has had strong leadership over time, [10:27] so, tell us your outlook.

[10:30] Well, I think Fremont and Dodge County, [10:32] it has such an opportunity to impact [10:36] the neighboring communities, the Scribners, the North Bends, [10:40] even in Cuming County and West Point, [10:43] it has that reach to reach those communities. [10:45] And one of the things that’s happening today [10:47] is that we have a lot of young, vibrant business people [10:52] moving back, or wanting to move to Fremont and Dodge County. [10:56] We have businesses that are locating there [10:58] that will impact people’s jobs and their careers. [11:01] And so what we’re trying to do [11:03] is make sure that we are inclusive [11:06] and that we put our picture and our message to the world [11:10] that we are more than just a micropolitan community, [11:15] that we are actually a catalyst for change and growth. [11:18] So that happens with spurring opportunities for businesses [11:21] and for families to find housing. [11:24] We just received 1.8 million dollars from the state [11:29] and local community for workforce housing recently, [11:32] and so that’s gonna help to sustain a revolving fund [11:36] that can establish housing opportunities [11:38] for people looking for places to live. [11:40] And so Fremont, while it has had its challenges [11:44] in various areas, we have an opportunity [11:49] to shift that narrative because there’s [11:51] so much energy and activity happening. [11:54] And I think we have a cluster of leaders [11:57] that don’t want to sit on their seats [12:00] or rest on their laurels. [12:02] They want to see growth and activity, [12:04] and so that’s what we’ve been willing to do [12:06] with the Greater Fremont Development Council [12:08] is create planning and development opportunities [12:10] for everyone, and that’s gonna impact the whole region. [12:13] We’re not just thinking of ourselves.

[12:15] Well, you touched on something that I think [12:17] is so important for people to understand [12:20] about the community of Fremont, [12:21] and that is the core of leadership that you have. [12:25] You and I were talking about this a little bit [12:26] before we started here, [12:28] and Scott Getzschman, your mayor, is a guy [12:32] that I used as an example of someone who [12:35] gets up everyday and serves in a public service role [12:39] simply because he loves the community [12:42] and is willing to sacrifice, take some risks, [12:46] and by the way, provide the leadership necessary [12:49] to move in a positive direction. [12:52] Charlie Diers, his daughter Maggie that we just love, [12:57] your new president at Midland Jody Horner [12:59] is a phenomenal human being. [13:02] She and I go back to mutual friends in the meat industry [13:06] where she came up, but you do have those leaders [13:10] in education, business, economic development [13:14] that really have a dynamic vision [13:18] for what the community can be. [13:20] And I think if in a community of 180, [13:25] it is the same as in a community of several thousand, [13:29] it all comes down to leadership [13:31] and people deciding, we’re not okay with where we are, [13:35] we know where we’d like to go. [13:37] We’re willing to invest ourselves and our resources [13:41] in our community, and that’s where [13:44] those thriving communities come from. [13:46] I’m just pleased with your leadership there.

[13:49] Well listen, Washington D.C. native, [13:53] we can’t have you on Catch Up With Chuck [13:56] and not talk about the rural, urban divide. [14:01] My career, I’m 67 years old, and through the course [14:05] of my lifetime, we’ve talked about the challenges [14:08] of the rural, urban divide my whole life. [14:10] Whether that’s here in Nebraska, whether it’s [14:13] across the U.S., you can go to countries around the world [14:17] and hear that same story. [14:19] You’re a guy that is dealing with that rural, urban divide [14:25] everyday, talk a little bit about your vision [14:27] and what we need to do to continue [14:30] to build toward a more mutually supportive environment.

[14:36] Yeah, I see Rural Futures Institute [14:39] as one of the models for that. [14:41] Some of the programs that you’ve talked about, [14:44] they tie directly with what I think my vision would be. [14:48] And that is telling our story, number one, [14:51] that young families that live in urban areas [14:54] are aware of the opportunities, [14:56] and so having an organization like this [14:58] is imperative for growth and opportunities [15:01] and bridging that gap, but also, I think about technology. [15:05] I think about the advances. [15:07] I think about the fact that we are not one monolithic group. [15:12] We all have diverse opinions about things, [15:15] but in order for urban America to thrive, [15:19] they need rural America to thrive. [15:22] And the same is true on the opposite side. [15:25] Rural America needs urban America. [15:27] So we have to communicate, but we also have to share stories [15:31] and share these types of stories, [15:33] and share that there can be an opportunity for growth. [15:37] So I think the expansion and growth of technology [15:41] so that we have wifi that is working [15:46] in our rural communities, that we have opportunities [15:50] for businesses and that’s then a growth of NTCA [15:53] and other organizations on the federal level. [15:56] I really think that there’s gonna be an opportunity [15:59] for a boom of rural and urban connectivity [16:03] because of the advancement of technology. [16:05] So that’s where we’d start, [16:07] and I think telling our story and investing [16:10] in building true relationships with urban people [16:14] and not just video, but also engaging in those forms, [16:20] that’s key. [16:22] I just think President Eisenhower started [16:24] the People to People program back in the 50s, [16:27] and recognizing the power of relationships, [16:32] people to people relationships, not just [16:34] reading about each other and creating opinions, [16:37] but actually getting to know each other, [16:39] look each other in the eye, talk about issues, [16:41] and finding out what great commonalities [16:45] we have as human beings on this planet, [16:47] and I think you’re spot on.

[16:50] Well listen, I just want to say, Garry, [16:51] that we count it among our treasures [16:54] at the Rural Futures Institute, [16:56] the opportunity to get to know you and work with you [16:59] in various capacities now, in three chapters [17:03] of your career here in Nebraska. [17:06] In our quest to achieve a thriving, [17:09] high touch, high tech future for rural Nebraska [17:12] and the Great Plains, we think relationships [17:15] with people like you and being able to encourage you, [17:17] learn from you and draw from you [17:20] is pretty important to this work. [17:23] Anything you’d like to add this morning? [17:25] I just want to thank you all for having me here, [17:27] and I thank you all for the work that you do, [17:30] and just continue to invest in us, [17:32] and we’ll continue to invest in rural America. [17:36] Thank you.

[17:37] Thank you. [17:38] This has been a treat. [17:39] Well listen, we invite you to stay in touch [17:41] with the Rural Futures Institute [17:42] through Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and LinkedIn [17:46] and all of those wonderful tools, [17:48] as well as our website, where by the way, [17:50] you can see other episodes of Catch Up With Chuck [17:53] if you’d like to review some of those. [17:55] We’ll be back next week talking with real people [17:58] about real places that demonstrate [18:00] that thriving rural communities are a great choice [18:04] for worthwhile living, thanks for joining us.

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Episode 29 | Impacting Rural through Scholarship and Passion