Episode 18 | Rural Economic Development

Mar. 15, 2018

Show Notes:

In this episode, Chuck is joined by the new director at the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, David Rippe, who is a longtime friend of the Rural Futures Institute. They discuss Nebraska’s economic vitality, as well as the importance of collaboration and leadership for economic success.

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Full Transcript:

[0:04] Welcome back to Catch Up With Chuck [0:06] from the Rural Futures Institute [0:08] at the University of Nebraska. [0:10] I’m Chuck Schroeder. [0:11] I’m the founding executive director [0:13] of the Rural Futures Institute, [0:14] and I have a very special guest with me today that, [0:17] quite honestly, I wanted to get on this program even [0:20] before he rose to his new elevated position [0:25] as the director of the Department of Economic Development [0:28] for the state of Nebraska, Dave Rippe. [0:30] Dave, welcome. [0:31] Hey, thanks for the opportunity to be here, Chuck. [0:33] It’s been a while since we’ve been able to catch up. [0:35] Well it has, and I just, I’m excited about this. [0:39] You and I met when I did a community visit to Hastings [0:43] on behalf of the Rural Futures Institute a few years ago [0:45] when you were the Economic Development Director there. [0:48] And at that time, I was so impressed [0:52] with the renaissance that had occurred in Hastings. [0:56] My gosh, and it was something [0:58] that had required leadership, courage in the community. [1:03] So that’s what I think of when I think of Dave Rippe. [1:05] (Dave laughs) [1:06] But listen, let our audience know a little bit more [1:09] about you and your background, and your upbringing, [1:12] and the kind of things that Dave Rippe thinks about [1:15] when he’s trying not to think about anything else.

[1:17] Well, I am a native Nebraskan, Chuck. [1:21] I didn’t know if you know that, [1:22] but my family’s from Malcolm, Nebraska, [1:24] which is just west of town here. [1:25] Folks still live there. [1:27] I grew up on a small, just 20-acre piece of ground, [1:30] but I grew up walking beans and milo, [1:33] and everything else for area farmers [1:35] that they’d pay a guy to do, [1:37] and detasseling corn, and eventually building houses, [1:40] and just about anything to make a buck, [1:43] kind of a classic Nebraskan, right? [1:44] (Chuck laughs) [1:45] Sure. [1:45] And ultimately went to Nebraska Wesleyan University, [1:48] and then a graduate degree from right here [1:50] at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. [1:52] And so, very proud Nebraskan, went to work after grad school [1:56] for our state Legislature and the Fiscal Office. [1:59] And then started recruiting businesses [2:01] for the Department of Economic Development [2:03] and took a leap of faith and landed in Hastings. [2:06] And knew one person when we moved to Hastings, [2:09] (Chuck laughs) [2:10] so we spent eight years there just really building a network [2:13] and learning what it means to be part [2:15] of a vibrant, thriving rural community in Nebraska.

[2:19] You know, Dave, your background [2:22] brings such credibility, in my view, to your work now [2:25] in leading The Department of Economic Development. [2:27] Yes, it’s a discipline and a profession unto itself, [2:30] but understanding the culture has a lot to do, [2:34] I think, with potential success. [2:36] So, listen, the Department of Economic Development [2:39] over the years, you and I were just talking, [2:41] has had some really interesting, talented, [2:44] creative leadership that have really had an impact. [2:49] I know you’re new to the role, [2:50] but can you share with our audience a little bit, [2:53] your vision for how you think things might go [2:57] in your role to stir up the economy [2:59] (Dave laughs) [3:00] across Nebraska. [3:01] Yeah, well, sure.

[3:01] Everybody brings a perspective to every job they do, right? [3:04] And it’s really framed and formed by your experiences. [3:08] My experiences have been across our state. [3:11] As a business recruiter, I was able [3:12] to canvass the state with different companies. [3:14] In Hastings, I was able to learn [3:16] what it takes to really invest in a community, [3:19] and to help build a strong community [3:21] where people want to live. [3:22] And I think that that’s just so important [3:24] for us as Nebraskans, to consider. [3:27] The governor says it a lot. [3:29] Companies and people don’t locate [3:30] to a generic place in Nebraska. [3:32] TheY locate to specific communities, [3:34] and ultimately, when people can live anywhere, [3:38] they locate in strong communities. [3:40] So, really the priorities for us at the Department [3:43] are the people, the businesses, [3:46] and the communities of Nebraska. [3:49] Helping to develop talent, the type of people [3:52] that companies and communities want, [3:53] investing in strong- [3:54] Sure. [3:55] -quality communities in our state, [3:57] and certainly working hand-in-hand [3:58] with our people and our businesses [3:59] to build strong communities.

[4:01] Dave, when I think about Hastings, [4:03] actually Dr. Lindsay Hastings here at the university, [4:07] did a study a few years ago about communities [4:09] that were successful and transitioning leadership [4:12] generation to generation. [4:14] And that resulted in set of characteristics [4:17] of successful communities. [4:20] One of those that we love to talk about [4:22] is a hopeful vision backed by grit. [4:26] And when I think about Hastings, [4:28] (Dave laughs) [4:29] and the dramatic turnaround that you were able [4:32] to achieve there, as a community. [4:35] I mean, Hastings has been my poster child for years, [4:39] now I’m talking about that hopeful vision backed by grit. [4:42] I want to you to talk a little bit [4:43] about what it took to start turning the ship [4:48] in a community like Hastings, [4:50] that today just has one of the most vibrant downtowns [4:53] I think, in the state. [4:55] You’ve just done some really interesting things there, [4:57] so talk a little bit about that renaissance. [5:00] Yeah.

[5:00] Well, you know as well as I do [5:01] that a goal without a plan is just a wish, right? [5:03] And so it takes follow-through and it does take grit. [5:07] And you look at those boots that were on the ground, [5:09] and when we came to Hastings in 2010, [5:11] so much of the work, you know, [5:13] that very important foundational work, [5:15] the leadership was in place and it was up and rolling, [5:18] and our mutual friend, Randy Chick, in Hastings, [5:20] is responsible for so much of that. [5:22] And I think Randy said it best when he said, [5:24] “You know, the cavalry is not coming to save us.” [5:26] (Chuck laughs) [5:28] And I use that a lot. [5:29] The communities across our state, [5:32] they need to have the leadership, [5:34] they need to have the grit, to really take control [5:36] of their own destiny, of their own future, [5:38] like Randy and the group did in Hastings [5:40] and we were able to come be a part of. [5:42] I sat with a company the other and they said, [5:43] “Listen, we can’t go in [5:45] and fix all the community’s problems. [5:46] They need to prepared and ready for us.” [5:48] I thought that’s exactly right. [5:52] Our communities need to be strong, [5:54] they need to be ready, and I really think [5:56] that Hastings is a great example of that. [5:58] You have great leadership that recognize [6:00] that, logistically, the community isn’t ideally placed [6:04] along Interstate 80, that population-wise [6:07] people are fleeing to urban centers in droves, [6:09] and the communities that will be successful [6:11] will be the ones that take the investment, the initiative [6:14] and the leadership to position themselves [6:15] as communities of choice. [6:17] And Hastings is an example of that, [6:20] Scottsbluff and Gering as examples of that. [6:21] Sure. [6:22] North Platte, Columbus, Norfolk. [6:24] There’s terrific examples throughout our state [6:26] of communities that are making those types of investments.

[6:29] Listen, one thing that really struck me, [6:32] two or three times actually, that I came to Hastings [6:35] to visit with you and then to visit [6:37] with local businesses and institutions. [6:41] It was always that theme of collaboration. [6:44] Not only individual-to-individual, [6:47] but from Mary Lanning Hospital creating [6:49] collaborative relationships with health care centers [6:52] in communities in the region. [6:55] Dutton-Lainson and it relationship [6:57] with other other small manufacturers. [6:58] Sure. [6:59] I just heard that theme over and over. [7:01] That’s something that you’d hope [7:03] to promote a bit, state-wide? [7:06] Yeah, you bet.

[7:06] So Gary Pearson is the director of the Chamber of Commerce [7:09] and Economic Development Partnership [7:11] in North Platte, Nebraska. [7:12] Another good friend of ours, sure. [7:13] (Chuck chuckles) [7:14] And Gary said it best one time, he said, [7:16] “Every community is just like an individual or group. [7:19] It’s only capable of so much energy. [7:22] If all of the components of that community [7:24] or that entity aren’t working together, [7:25] they’re working against themselves.” [7:27] and I just think that is accurate across our communities. [7:31] If all those facets aren’t working together, [7:33] we’re not achieving our best potential. [7:35] And so it takes the hospital, [7:37] it takes the local manufacturers and employers, [7:39] it takes civic leadership, really across the board [7:43] to come together in the spirit of collaboration [7:45] toward the end goal. [7:46] And that’s really something that is… [7:48] We work across the state that we hope to foster [7:51] and hope to encourage [7:52] as the Department of Economic Development. [7:54] You know, I always think of my visit [7:57] to Mary Lanning Hospital, and your Chief Operating Officer [8:00] at the time was a fellow, took me around, [8:03] and was talking about those relationships [8:05] with other health care centers. [8:07] And I said, “You know, this doesn’t necessarily sound [8:10] like a wealth-maximization strategy to me.” [8:12] (Dave laughs) [8:13] And he said, “No, but it is our mission.” [8:17] Yeah. [8:18] And by the way, we’re looking at all the renovations [8:21] to the hospital, the upgrades and the cancer center, [8:24] and he looked around, he said, [8:26] “So far it’s working pretty good.” [8:27] (Dave laughs) [8:28] So I love that story.

[8:30] Well, listen, the mission of the Rural Futures Institute [8:33] is to harness the intellectual energy [8:36] of the University of Nebraska and its partners [8:39] to the benefit of humankind. [8:42] So now more than ever, we think about [8:45] the relationship with the university to business, [8:49] to other institutions, to the culture of our state. [8:53] Is part of your strategy to help build those partnerships [8:57] with the university entities as well? [8:59] Without a doubt.

[8:59] Mike Boehm, here at the university is a great, [9:02] has become a great friend in a hurry. [9:04] And Mike has a tremendous vision, [9:06] spending time with Ronnie Green, [9:07] just really the leadership team here at the university [9:10] have been very encouraged about the potential [9:13] for how we work together, and it’s really… [9:14] It’s at play every day, we just don’t always see it. [9:19] At the beginning of February, we took a trip [9:21] with the university to Japan, as a follow-up [9:23] to the governor’s trade mission last year. [9:25] As a follow-up to that, the university [9:28] and a company in Japan, Kewpie, [9:30] just inked a deal for research and development [9:32] that we hope will prosper into more [9:33] in the months to come. [9:35] We administer funds through the Department [9:37] under the Business Innovation Act, [9:39] and many of those funds come to research projects [9:42] with companies here at the university. [9:44] Like Quantified Ag, like Vestal, [9:46] like in Telefarm, like Virtual Incision. [9:49] Across the board, we’re investing [9:51] in companies that are doing research with the university. [9:55] We just took the governor out to Seattle [9:57] to go visit some companies and to say thank you to Costco [10:00] for investing 400 million dollars into our state [10:03] on a project that’ll have a billion dollar [10:05] annual economic impact to Nebraska. [10:08] One of the things that we’re working on with Costco [10:11] is beef research up at Mead with the University of Nebraska. [10:14] Sure. [10:15] Another great, just a great example [10:18] of the partnership between government, university, [10:20] and private business and industry. [10:22] And as we look forward at how we continue [10:24] to marry up those efforts, I think that’s an area [10:26] of tremendous potential for our state. [10:29] Listen, Dave. [10:31] I know personally that you get Nebraska. [10:33] (Dave laughs)

[10:34] Rural, urban, east and west, all of those divides [10:38] that we sometimes scheme up. [10:40] I know you understand the pieces. [10:43] I really believe that you are a leader [10:47] who can capitalize on those strengths of our state. [10:50] That includes our diversity. [10:52] Yeah. [10:53] And I just want you to know that we’re awfully proud [10:55] to be associated with you [10:56] (Dave laughs) [10:57] at the Rural Futures Institute, [10:58] and I’ve called you a friend. [11:00] What would you like to add about your goal and mission [11:03] with the Department of Economic Development?

[11:06] Well, I guess first and foremost, Chuck, [11:07] just to thank you for the very kind words. [11:10] I’m very thankful for the opportunity [11:12] that I’ve been given by our governor [11:14] and by our state’s legislature, [11:15] to come in here and help try and see [11:18] how pieces can come together. [11:19] As I go out across our state, you know, [11:21] the same recurring themes keep coming up [11:23] that I knew to expect from my time in Hastings. [11:25] We need more workforce, we need more talented people, [11:28] we need the future doers and dreamers, [11:29] we need housing, we need to help build communities [11:32] where people want to live. [11:34] But what I also hear, what maybe surprised me a little bit, [11:39] is really the vocalization of the need [11:41] for community leadership. [11:43] And I know that that’s something that you and I [11:45] have discussed before. [11:47] Really the critical differentiator [11:48] in our communities is leadership. [11:51] Absolutely. [11:51] And I think that in our time going forward, [11:55] that effort, for us to be able [11:56] to work with the university and other partners, [11:58] with the tremendous work [11:59] of the Rural Futures Institute here, [12:01] is to develop those next leaders in our rural communities [12:05] that are gonna help rural Nebraska [12:07] continue to thrive and to be vibrant. [12:10] And so I’m just really looking forward to it. [12:13] We have a legislature, a body of elected officials, [12:16] that obviously wants to see a strong Nebraska. [12:18] We have a governor who reminds us at every cabinet meeting [12:21] that the vision is to grow Nebraska. [12:23] It’s not just to grow Omaha, or just to grow Lincoln, [12:26] he lets us all know it’s to grow Nebraska, [12:28] and I think that we’re all up to the challenge, [12:32] knowing who’s on the team here. [12:35] Well, we’re awfully proud to have you in that role, [12:37] and thinking of that future, I just today [12:39] have been interviewing some students [12:42] in the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program, [12:44] and, believe me, there are dedicated, [12:47] really bright young people coming along [12:50] to fill those leadership roles [12:53] and I just don’t know what you and I could do [12:54] that would be more important than encouraging them along.

[12:57] Thank you. [12:58] Thank you. [12:59] For being with us today. [13:00] Well, listen, we want you to stay in touch [13:01] with the Rural Futures Institute [13:02] through our website, through Facebook and Twitter [13:06] and Instagram and LinkedIn [13:08] (Dave laughs) [13:08] and all that fun stuff, and know that we’ll be back [13:11] next week with another edition [13:13] of Catch up with Chuck, talking to real people [13:16] about real places that demonstrate [13:18] that thriving rural communities are a legitimate, [13:21] best choice for worthwhile living. [13:23] Thank you so much for joining us.


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