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Mitigating Risk to Zero?

In community and economic development, can you mitigate risk to zero? That’s a question that is often never asked when thinking about the inherent risk in development circles. But it is an attitude that too often is carried by elected and unelected leadership in rural Nebraska.

Many communities fail to act, fail to implement a plan when it comes to their community strategy because they think they can mitigate the risk of their efforts to zero. Or they are unwilling to take the pressure that *always* comes from making hard decisions. I then continue to hear these same communities complain that they can’t get their young people to stay or come back. Don’t you think there is a corollary here? I sure do. The rural communities that fail to act because of their fear of risk are only ensuring their decline. And young people can smell that fear from a mile away.

Think about it: by not taking risk, rural communities are ensuring that their town is a place no one will want to come home to. It’s what separates the big boys from the little ones. It isn’t about size, it’s about attitude.

I strongly believe we have that attitude in Ord and Valley County Other rural communities do, others do not.

I am lucky: I get to work for a great organization in a rural community that is comfortable with taking risks when ensuring due diligence has been completed. Yes, the potential for failure is there. But rural communities cannot afford to govern by fear when many of them are staring both obsolescence and imminent decline in the face. Recall a post a few weeks ago relating to our annual report:

“2011 brought forth significant private sector growth in Valley County. In the past year, $601,600 was loaned to seven businesses from the Ord City Sales Tax Loan Program. An additional $17,790 in 0% interest business corridor improvement loans were funded to two businesses. Two $5,000 façade improvement loans were made to two downtown Ord businesses, bring the total 2011 loan investment in Valley County to $629,390.

In addition, Valley County employment returned to pre-recession levels. In 2011, 58 jobs have been created, bringing Valley County back to 2007 employment levels. Jobs were added in nearly every sector, with important gains in manufacturing.”

Those investments would not have happened with near the impact had we not taking calculated risk in making sure our private sector continues to grow in Valley County. And that is precisely why this area will continue to thrive and grow. NET Radio ran a great story about Ord awhile back (to listen, go here). The reporter asked about the risk involved with our efforts. I think now, more than ever, these comments carry real weight:

“But while urban areas can expect continued growth, many rural cities have to work at simply maintaining a stable population.

Valley County, for example, hit its population peak 90 years ago, and has been steadily losing people since – although at a pace that’s half what it was in the ’90s, a pace that’s the lowest in 40 years.

Pollard said he thinks the city sales tax is a big part of Ord’s relative success. He admitted it can be “incredibly sensitive” taking calculated risks with taxpayer money, but added that the town has limited options.

“I don’t know if we have any other choice,” he said. “The alternative here, and everyone experienced it, is declination: population decline. I mean, that’s the biggest thing that we’re concerned about. How are we going to create an environment that’s going to invite people back to the community?

“Because the rest of the Great Plains is suffering the same fate that we are.”

You are either the lion or the gazelle in today’s inter-connected, hyper-globalized world. Rural communities cannot afford to ignore that. You have to get up every day and run. Eat or be eaten. It’s that simple.

~ Caleb

One Response to “Mitigating Risk to Zero?”

  1. Ord Nebraska » Blog Archive » Seeking Context for Rural Community Revitalization Says:

    […] willingness, as rural community leaders, to accept change as one of the key motivators of growth? Without that contextual relationship with change, I’m of the belief revitalization won’t happen. What say […]

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