Scottsbluff Star Herald: Ricketts speaks on Impact of Rural Communitites

Ricketts Speaks on Impact of Rural Communities

Posted: Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Written By: Maggy Lehmicke, Nebraska News Service


LINCOLN — Governor Pete Ricketts told several hundred people attending the Rural Futures Institute conference on Friday about the importance of rural communities for Nebraska’s economic growth.

“Agriculture is our largest industry,” Ricketts said. “We grow things and we make things. That’s what we do.”

According to Ricketts, 25 percent of Nebraska’s economy is agriculture.

“If you look at the last recession in 2008, Nebraska weathered that quite well compared to other states,” he said. “That was in large part because agriculture had done so well.”

Ricketts said agriculture is what is going to drive future economic growth in Nebraska. Because people are demanding a higher standard of living, he said, Nebraska’s agriculture industry is experiencing growth.

“We are ideally situated, right here in Nebraska, to be able to take advantage of that trend,” he said.

There is a growing focus on quality of life, Ricketts said. This involves access to healthcare, shopping, restaurants and well-paying jobs. He said finding solutions to the challenge of providing those things requires local communities to work with the state to develop local solutions.

The focus on higher quality of life means there is a need to create more jobs in rural communities, Ricketts said. With manufacturing being the second largest industry in Nebraska, he said there needs to be a focus on how to develop that workforce.

“Manufacturing allows us to create jobs all across our state, not just in Lincoln and Omaha,” Ricketts said. “Great Nebraska companies are creating jobs in our small towns and rural communities.”

Ricketts said the economic growth of the state is drawing young people in, but there still needs to be more education about the importance of agriculture throughout the state.

“We’ve got to do a better job of educating our urban consumers about where food comes from,” he said. “Even here in Lincoln we’ve got a lot of people that take it for granted.”

Ricketts said humanizing the face of agriculture is not just important on a local level, but on a national and international level as well.

“In Europe, the perception is we’re all big corporate farms,” he said. However, between 97 and 99 percent of Nebraska farms are family owned, he said.

To expand opportunities and grow Nebraska’s economy, Ricketts said we have to shift our eyes abroad.

“Ninety-nine percent of the world’s consumers lie outside our borders,” he said.

Today, Japan is the third largest trading partner and largest direct foreign investor in the state, Ricketts said. Approximately 20 percent of Nebraska’s beef exports and 50 percent of pork exports go to Japan, he said.

“Japanese diets are changing,” he said. “The opportunity to expand is huge.”

Ricketts said China currently blocks beef exports from Nebraska. Building a relationship with China would mean helping with China’s food security and opening doors for Nebraska manufacturers to sell in Chinese markets and to Chinese producers, he said.

“If you think about those rising standards of living, those are going to be in Asia,” Ricketts said. “We’ve got to do a better job of presenting ourselves to the rest of the world.”

Ricketts said looking at Nebraska’s future means looking at the rest of the world.

“We’ve got to continue to be innovative because the world will change,” he said. “But the opportunities are limitless.”

The Grand Island Independent: Hope for Rural Communities

Rural Futures Institute Executive Director Speaks on Hope for Rural Communities

Posted: Wednesday, October 28, 2015 


KEARNEY — The Rural Futures Institute has no small goals, Executive Director Chuck Schroeder told Noon Rotary Club members Monday.

Its goals are big: being an internationally recognized leader in building the capacity and confidence of rural communities, he said.

“We’re talking about being the best in the world in Nebraska and addressing one of the most wicked problems facing the world today,” Schroeder said.

He explained that bringing about the success of rural communities is vital and how the institute plans to do it to counteract the wicked problem of rural stagnation.

“Rural matters,” said Schroeder. “Rural matters economically. It matters socially. It matters culturally. It matter environmentally to not only states like Nebraska but to the United States and the planet on which we live.”

Schroeder said six factors, researched by Lindsey Hastings of Nebraska Human Resources Institute, define a successful rural community. Hastings observed how rural communities moved leadership from one generation to another.

The six factors are:

– Leadership that matters: Leaders in a community must actively say: “We’re not fine with where we are. Here’s where we’d like to go; let’s figure out the steps that will take us there.”

– Hopeful vision backed by grit.

– Deliberate efforts to invite others into leadership roles, including people who might not otherwise participate.

– Not letting fear be a barrier.

– Willingness to invest in community.

– Strong social networks.

Success, Schroeder said, can only be built if there is a foundation of hope.

“When we talk about hope in this context, we’re not talking about ‘Keep a smile on your face and walk on the sunny side,” Schroeder said. “This isn’t a happy attitude deal. There is real science behind the hope that I am talking about.”

A keynote speaker at a recent RFI conference, Shane Lopez, Gallup senior scientist in residence and research director of the Clifton Strengths Institute, presented several principles of hope: people must believe that the future will be better than the present, that they have power to have an influence and that there are many paths to success but none are without obstacles.

In following those many paths to success, RFI works by three key principles.

First, RFI plans to help rural communities and regions by working with communities on issues they have already identified.

Second, the institute is addressing these issues by connecting partners, campuses and communities. It is working on 31 projects across 17 colleges and universities, 23 organizations, 12 government agencies, two companies and 113 communities.

These projects reach into areas such as economic development, leadership and civic engagement, community planning and marketing, health care, and the justice system.

The final principle is to strengthen intergenerational leadership and engagement in rural areas through programs such as Connecting Young Nebraskans and Rural Serviceship Program

“One thing we do know is it’s not the size of the population, not the proximity to the interstate or the economic mix in the community that matters,” Schroeder said. “What matters is leadership. It never fails. RFI is not in the business of trying to save every rural community in Nebraska, the country or the world. That cannot be done. We are in the business of finding those communities where there is a small cadre of leaders who have a sense of where they want to go and issues they want to address.

“When we can draw some resources around helping them, we know we can make a difference.”

Igniting Powerful Action

Igniting Powerful Action
with Dr. Denise A. Trudeau Polkas, leadership coach with Blue Egg Leadership and SynoVation Valley Leadership Academy

We live in the age of overflowing resources. You have the opportunity to Pick YOUR TOMATOES and chose from dozens of resources at any given time. Only you have the power to use these resources as INGREDIENTS that will create the best “SECRET SAUCE” of your life! We all have great ideas STEWING in our minds and hearts. We have the power to choose, create and make bold moves! Discover how to take ACTION with your dream of starting or expanding a business, your idea of contributing to local communities and invent bold ways to make a positive impact for those around us. Join us to help you CREATE, STEW and PRESERVE your “BEST RECIPE” for action!

November 17, 2015
Central Community College-Ord Learning Center | 1514 K Street | Ord, Nebraska
9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Register to attend at :
Cost: $25 | Pay at the door
Lunch will be included

View Flyer

View Agenda

Hosted by: Central Community College-Ord Learning Center
Sponsored by: Connecting Young Nebraskans, SynoVation Valley Leadership Academy

2015-16 Heuermann Series to kick off with Buffetts

How every person can play an important role in solutions to local, national and global challenges will be the focus of the first Heuermann series event of the 2015-2016 season on Oct. 21.

Howard G. Buffett and Howard W. Buffett will take part in a discussion moderated by Ronnie Green, University of Nebraska vice president, IANR Harlan vice chancellor and interim senior vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The discussion, which is free and open to the public, will be at 5 p.m. at the Nebraska Innovation Campus auditorium, 2021 Transformation Drive.

The Buffetts will discuss how to find solutions to some of the most challenging problems facing society. Together, they co-authored the New York Times bestseller “40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World,” which examines global agriculture, hunger and food systems challenges.

Howard G. Buffett is chairman and CEO of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, a private charitable foundation working to catalyze transformational change in the most impoverished areas of the world. He oversees three foundation-operated research farms in Illinois, Arizona and South Africa; a family farm in central Illinois; and farms with his son in Nebraska. Buffett serves as the undersheriff in Macon County, Illinois. He has traveled to 139 countries and authored eight books on conservation, wildlife and the human condition. He serves on the corporate boards of Berkshire Hathaway, Lindsay Corporation and the Coca-Cola Company. In 2005, the UNL College of Journalism and Mass Communications recognized Buffett’s contributions to journalism with the Will Owen Jones Distinguished Journalist of the Year Award.

Howard W. Buffett is a lecturer at UNL and Columbia University, where he teaches on topics related to international and public affairs, philanthropy, and food and agricultural policy. He also serves on the Board of Counselors for the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Buffett resides in Omaha, where he operates a 400-acre farm enrolled in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Stewardship Program.

The discussion is in conjunction with the third national Rural Futures Conference, hosted by the Rural Futures Institute. The conference presents opportunities for people to work together to build hope and develop a vision for invigorating rural communities. In addition to Nebraska Innovation Campus, the conference will take place at the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis. For more information and to register, visit

The Heuermann Lectures are made possible through a gift from B. Keith and Norma Heuermann of Phillips. The Heuermanns are longtime university supporters with strong commitment to Nebraska’s production agriculture, natural resources, rural areas and people.

The lectures focus on providing and sustaining enough food, natural resources and renewable energy for the world’s people, and on securing the sustainability of rural communities where the vital work of producing food and renewable energy occurs. Lectures stream live at and are archived at that site soon after the event. They also air on NET2 World at a later date.

Posted in General, Ag news on Friday, October 9, 2015.

Rural Futures Conference in the News

Ingredients for Success for Rural Nebraska »

Omaha World-Herald

2 Howard Buffetts talk about hunger, gender at Rural Futures Conference »

Omaha World-Herald

Buffetts speak at Rural Futures Conference, tell Small Communities to Find Hope, Solutions »

The Republic

Hope and Vision for Rural Communitites »

Radio 570 WNAX

Ricketts: The Impact of Rural Communities »

North Platte Bulletin

Recapping Nebraska’s 2015 Rural Futures Conference »

Nebraska Manufacturing Advisory Council

Students Find Opportunities in Rural Communities

Written by: Gillian Klucas

When Tanner Nelson left his tiny hometown of Bertrand in south central Nebraska for Lincoln and a college degree, he didn’t believe anyone raised in a city would embrace rural life as he did.

Now a senior at the University of Nebraska−Lincoln, he’s convinced rural communities are on the verge of a comeback as young people discover the numerous opportunities available in rural America and a lifestyle that allows room to grow.

After decades of decline as farms consolidated and people moved away, rural communities throughout the Midwest are making their communities more attractive to young people like Nelson, who are eager to make an outsized difference.

“I love rural Nebraska,” Nelson said. “I believe rural communities are the future of Nebraska, and I think you’ll start to see a reverse trend. I’ve found a lot of people in Lincoln who would love to live in the country. People are moving back.”

Tom Field, director of UNL’s Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program, said the change is evident. “When you talk to rural leaders, there are communities doing things that you just wouldn’t predict could happen,” he said.

He cites Ord, Nebraska, as one town with strong leadership development, high levels of civic engagement and blooming entrepreneurship. “Their advantage is the fact that they, as a community, decided they were going to be something special,” he said.

Nelson said he plans to return to a small town and start his own business. He’ll find a place that actively supports local businesses and where he can get enthusiastic about becoming involved as a community member.

For Brianna Meyer, a nursing student at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Kearney, working in a small town will give her a greater opportunity to shine and grow. At a larger corporation, young employees start at the bottom and work their way up, she said. Working in a smaller organization or business, provides more opportunities to take on and explore a variety of responsibilities.

“In a small community, if you can show that you can be professional and you’re serious about your job, they’re going to throw more things your way,” she said. “If you really want to make a difference, you’re more likely to be able to do it in a small community.”

The ability to one day raise a family in a safe, friendly environment like the one she grew up in in Wolbach, Nebraska, is also on her mind, she added.

Alyssa Dye, a recent UNL graduate, didn’t plan to go back to small-town life after leaving Alliance, Nebraska. Her dreams were global, seeking to make a difference through international development. But after spending a summer in Neligh, Nebraska, for an internship through the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska, she’s completely sold on pursuing a career that includes rural development. A small town would expand her options, not limit them, she said.

Technology is opening new possibilities. Communities with a reliable digital infrastructure can support an office doing business anywhere in the world.

“I totally believe that rural communities are incubators of innovation and entrepreneurship,” Dye said. “Now I understand the leadership role that I can play in a rural community and being invested in that community. You can have a business in a rural town, but still have a global impact no matter where the physical office is.”

But finding just the right town can be difficult.

University of Nebraska’s Rural Futures Institute recognized the need to connect students with rural communities and businesses. Taking a cue from traditional career fairs, the institute is hosting the first-ever Rural Opportunities Fair October 21st, at UNL’s East Campus Union. Towns actively seeking young talent and organizations with jobs in rural communities will be there to talk with students and showcase what they have to offer.

Greg Ptacek, Neligh’s director of economic development, said he’ll be there. “The fair is a chance to get in front of students and say, ‘There is opportunity for you in rural Nebraska and here’s why we have a great quality of life.’”

“We’re saying, ‘We have the jobs available, and we need you.’”

Information regarding the upcoming Rural Opportunities Fair is available at:






Rural Communities Embrace Young Talent

Written by: Gillian Klucas

When Greg Ptacek answered the phone recently, he found himself talking to a young lawyer looking for a small town in which to build his career. He’d heard good things about Neligh, a town of 1,500 people in northwestern Nebraska.

It’s the kind of conversation the town’s economic development director is having more often these days, a sign that Neligh’s efforts to entice new residents are paying off.

“That stems from the progressive nature of the community and a relationship with the Rural Futures Institute,” Ptacek said. “We’re getting access to a lot of high caliber students.”

The Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska, established in 2012, works to revitalize rural areas in Nebraska and beyond. Ptacek said he values the events, programs and other support RFI provides rural communities like Neligh that actively seek to invigorate their community and reverse a decades-long trend of losing populations as farms consolidated and families decamped.

RFI sponsors networking events and conferences, connects students with rural towns, and supports rural-based research and extension programs that, for example, help communities develop marketing strategies and promote healthy habits.

Nicole Sedlacek, executive director of Holt County Economic Development, admits she was skeptical when RFI first opened its doors. “In the beginning, I thought it was just a lot of talking heads coming from Lincoln,” she said. “Now I feel like they are really making it a true resource that rural communities want to work with.”

Holt County hosted two RFI-sponsored interns in 2015, who worked with the local high school to help develop an alumni retention program. Sedlacek said she was impressed by the quality of the college interns, but the program’s value went beyond the work product. “We want to create communities that young people want to live in, and so being able to hear from them about what things communities can do to attract young students gave us new perspectives.”

She said she’s also excited about the upcoming Rural Futures Conference, and especially the Rural Opportunities Fair, where community representatives can meet students interested in establishing their futures in a rural place. The fair will be held October 21st, ahead of the Rural Futures Conference to be held October 21-23, both in Lincoln, Nebraska.

“Economic development for so long was all about chasing smokestacks and manufacturing jobs,” Sedlacek said. “It’s really about chasing the people. The fair gives us an opportunity to showcase our community and reach out to a number of students.”

Kristina Foth said Valley County, in central Nebraska, wouldn’t miss it. For her, the benefits of RFI’s programs extend beyond the institute itself. It’s also about plugging into a group of likeminded communities.

“Being engaged with the Rural Futures Institute has allowed us to create this dynamic and insightful network among communities and among community developers and leaders throughout our state,” said Foth, assistant chamber director of Valley County Economic Development and the Ord Area Chamber of Commerce. “Sharing ideas and passions and knowledge has been very valuable for us in Valley County.”

Neligh’s Ptacek agrees. The town has taken advantage of several RFI-sponsored programs, including Marketing Hometown America, a development process that led to a community-driven marketing strategy. Neligh followed up by hosting two college interns to help implement the ideas. The videos the students created have been seen nearly 10,000 times in 52 countries.

Marketing to outsiders also reinforces to residents that their community has value, which generates its own energy, enthusiasm and ideas, Ptacek said.

“RFI is a great organization, but you get out of it what you put in,” he added. “It isn’t going to come in and save your community, but they’re going to be a great partner and help you along the way.”

Information regarding the upcoming Rural Opportunities Fair and the Rural Futures Conference is available at: