Regional Board Opposes Livestock Operation Siting Bill

Panhandle Area Development District’s board of directors recently took action to unanimously oppose a bill currently in the legislature that would put a state board in the drivers seat for decisions about where livestock operations could locate.  It is one of 3 livestock bills currently being debated in the unicameral that were described by the Center for Rural Affairs as wolves in sheep’s clothing. This bill, the Livestock Operation Siting and Expansion Act, or LB 106, would allow the state to preempt county zoning for determining where livestock operations could be sited or where it is allowable for current operations to expand.

This would be done by judging new siting and expansions on a matrix of criteria which are typically considered for siting and expansion of livestock operation.  Only for larger operations (over 300 cattle, for example), could counties require their own siting and expansion permits.  However, this bill would also create a 7-member state Livestock Operation Siting Review board, appointed by the governor, which could overturn a county’s permit denial if it decides the county made the wrong decision. The only recourse for counties then would be to challenge the board’s decision in district court.  This siting review board would consist of:

  • 2 members selected from a list of names provided by the Nebraska Association of County Officials (NACO);
  • 2 members representing livestock farming interests, selected from a list of names submitted by statewide agricultural organizations, and;
  • 3 members representing other economic development, planning, chambers of commerce, small business, or environmental interests

At best, this bill is unnecessary.  At worst, it is an overreach of one industry’s interests and erodes the ability of residents and local boards to determine what is best for their community.  County boards in Nebraska aren’t searching for ways to discourage business, but they do understand that business works best when proper considerations are taken in respect for residents and the land.  Counties are in a better position than a matrix or state level, hand selected board to make these decisions of what is best for their residents, land, and water.

This is the message our board made loud and clear on Wednesday.   One county commissioner called this bill a ‘bad idea’.  Another asked if he could vote against it twice. Our board agrees the Livestock Operation Siting and Expansion Act is not good policy for Nebraska.

Contact Daniel:

Contact your Senator


The Panhandle’s Opportunity in a Metropolitan and Creative Class Economy

We need to increase our talent and skill level.”

“We need to bring the right kind of jobs to the Panhandle.”

“How do we attract young families and professionals?”

Sound familiar?  What many of these comments refer to is a group of people sometimes called “the creative class”.

Richard Florida popularized the notion of the ‘creative class’ as a driver for economic growth and worker attraction with his publication, The Rise of the Creative Class.  By ‘creative class’ we mean occupations such as engineers, architects, artists, scientists, and management professionals that ‘specialize in combining knowledge and ideas in novel ways.’  Florida’s publication notes that people in these occupations are drawn to places that feature a high quality of life and that communities wanting to attract these people must take on strategies that build an environment for a high quality of life- things like attractive shopping spaces, parks, cultural activities, and biking and walking trails.

This map below breaks down rural creative class counties by whether or not they have natural amenities.  It shows that Nebraska only has two creative class counties, both without amenities, and those are Cheyenne County, home to city of Sidney and Cabela’s, and Hooker County, home to Mullen and the Sandhills.

An article, What Happened to the “’Creative Class’ Job Growth Engine” During the Recession and Recovery?, by Tim Wojan of USDA Economic and Research Service looks at job growth and decline by county and the trends that emerge by whether or not these counties are urban or rural and creative class or not creative class.  What is found is that metropolitan counties performed better after the recession than rural counties both with and without the presence of the creative class.

In rural areas, we would have hoped to expect that all other things being equal, resiliency would have been on par with Metropolitan Areas.  But another interesting pattern emerged in the study.  As the map above shows, amenities are a big draw for rural creative class counties, but after the recession the presence of amenities had far less draw that it appeared to have before.  As the chart below shows, the rural counties that showed the highest rate of resiliency were counties that were creative class without natural amenities.

Wojan notes that this could be because many rural creative class non-amenity counties are adjacent to metro areas and are benefiting from their growth.  Regardless, this seems to me to be good news for the Panhandle!  While residents who live here know and appreciate the natural wonders of the high plains, this study indicates that economic growth in rural areas may be weighing less on merely having amenities like mountains and more on having a highly skilled and talented workforce, access to knowledge institutions, and quality infrastructure.  While rural areas have a harder time competing with metro areas for these things, they are also not completely out of our control.  By focusing our attention to what are shown to be drivers of the current economy, we can stand a better chance of competing to grow strong and resilient rural economies. 

Wojan’s ‘upshot’ is that population is continuing to become more concentrated, and we have even seen this in the Panhandle as our ‘hub’ communities show more positive trends than the more rural areas.  Wojan notes that isolated areas may struggle as proximity to major metro economic centers will continue to increase in its importance.   We can’t do anything about our geographic location.  What we can do is focus our attention on the drivers of the current economy and explore ways to further decrease the isolation of our area through improved technology, transportation, culture, and ways of doing work.

Rural Nebraskans pay more in combined property/income taxes (OpenSky Re-post)

The following is a re-post from a recent OpenSky Policy Institute article.  PADD’s executive director, Chuck Karpf, serves on board of directors for the institute.  

There is a common misconception that Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers pay little or no state income taxes, so it balances out the fact that they pay more in property taxes.

But a look at property and income taxes combined over the past several years shows the true picture: Nebraskans in areas of the state that have high amounts of agricultural land (rural areas) paid more taxes — both on a per-capita basis and as a share of income — than people in areas that have the least agricultural land (urban areas).

ag land plus income

Data are not available to directly compare taxes paid by farmers and ranchers to urban wage earners. But it is possible to compare taxes paid in urban and rural areas.picture 2

The data show that although income taxes paid in rural areas are lower, property taxes there are higher so that rural residents pay more when both taxes are combined.

It was once true that urban Nebraskans generally paid slightly more per person than rural Nebraskans, but this situation reversed around 2007.
By 2012, the last year for which such data are available, rural Nebraskans paid more than $1,000 more per person than their urban counterparts — a difference of nearly 40 percent (Figure 1).

Measured as a share of income rather than per-person, taxes also are higher in rural Nebraska (Figure 2).

Rising land values squeeze farmers and ranchers

The skyrocketing value of Nebraska’s farm and ranch land has contributed to this growing imbalance. From 2003 to 2012, agricultural land in Nebraska saw a 116 percent increase in value for tax purposes, while commercial and residential property each increased 45 percent.

Nebraska now relies on agricultural land for 26 percent of all property tax revenue – up from 19 percent in 2003. And while agriculture’s share of property taxes has increased in recent years, the state’s rural population has not grown.

The state has taken steps to relieve pressure on agricultural land owners — such as reducing the valuation of agricultural land for tax purposes to 75 percent of its market value since 2007. These efforts have not been as effective as intended, however, as agricultural property taxes have still risen steeply in recent years.

Furthermore, increases in the value of agricultural land have not necessarily translated into boosts in income for farmers and ranchers. In other words, their ground is worth more, but it does not necessarily generate more money.


Our current tax imbalance that has rural Nebraskans paying more in combined property and income taxes has caused problems regarding fiscal issues like school funding. Our agricultural producers have seen their share of our K-12 bill increase along with the rise in their property taxes.

If Nebraska heeds the calls of some and cuts income taxes, these fiscal issues and rural-urban tax disparities are likely to be exacerbated.

Download a printable PDF of this analysis or view the report online.

Sources: Property tax data from Nebraska Department of Revenue Property Assessment Division; Population data from US Census Bureau; Personal Income data from US Bureau of Economic Analysis

opensky logo In 2008, several Nebraska organizations recognized the need for a non-partisan organization dedicated to fiscal research and analysis. Encouraged by a feasibility study revealing broad support from advocacy groups, policy makers and educators, a diverse group of funders from across the state provided the start up funds needed to make OpenSky Policy Institute a reality.  OpenSky’s mission is to improve opportunities for every Nebraskan by providing impartial and precise research, analysis, education and leadership.

Social Entrepreneurship Conference- Sign up!

What do you get when you combine the business savvy of a for-profit company, the mission-driven zeal of a nonprofit organization, and apply it to some of our most pressing social problems?  Some may call it too good to be true, but those who are living it out call it social enterprise or social entrepreneurship.  For our region, social enterprise is a way of simultaneously growing our own enterprise and finding sustainable, private sector solutions to some of our social issues.   It’s a way for citizens with a passion to work with both their heads and their hearts, and an opportunity is just around the corner to get the ball rolling in our area.

All are encouraged to sign up for a regional conference on Social Entrepreneurship titled, Coming Together: Innovations for Economic and Social Change, to be held Thursday, January 15, 2015 in Gering.  This conference will feature national speakers who are experienced social entrepreneurs as well as breakout sessions for diving deeper into the possibilities.

Register today to be a participate in this formative opportunity. 

Federal Transportation Funding a Necessity

Federal dollars as percentage of state DOT capital

Federal funds as percentage of state DOT capital for highway & bridge projects

Transportation is vital to making markets accessible and making business reliable and predictable.  This is true everywhere but the long distances of rural Nebraska and Wyoming make residents acutely aware of the disruption inefficient and unreliable transportation can have on business, safety, and travel plans.  Nebraska receives nearly half of its capital funding for highway and bridge projects from Federal Funds.  For Wyoming and South Dakota this number is over 70%.   This is one of the many reasons why it is critical that Congress pass a long term transportation bill this coming year.  In addition, a Transportation bill should secure adequate funding to maintain our deteriorating highways and bridges and it is important to note that our current fuel tax has lost over 34% of its value since it was last raised in 1993.  Reliable transportation affects us all, and we all need to be engaged in the discussion of how we move our nation forward through a superior transportation system.

Article: The Shame of America’s Rotting Roads

Five Reasons to Bike to Work in Western Nebraska

Panhandle Area Development District has partnered with our public health, tourism, and local business friends to sponsor Bike to Work Week 2014.   “Why would I want to bike to work??”   Glad you asked!  Here are some answers I came up with:

1.   We don’t live that far away from work.

Many of us live just down the street from our work.  The average resident in a Panhandle community takes a mere 11-12 minutes to get to work.   Even if taking the bike instead of the car doubled this commute time,  the average Panhandle resident would still be getting to work 3-5 minutes sooner than the average Denver resident.

2.    Burn fat not oil.

2.5 hours of moderate physical activity a week is recommended for adults.  If you have a 10 minute cycling commute, you’re already 2/3 of the way there if you cycle to work every day.  With a 20 minute commute, you’ll have 200 minutes of physical activity under your belt if you cycle to work everyday.  Even if you can’t bike to work everyday, it provides a habitual routine of physical activity that can provide a good start towards an active life style.

3.   Activate our streets.

What’s the number one activity people like to do in public spaces?  Watch other people of course!  It’s no surprise then that getting more people out of cars and onto the streets and sidewalks can make for a better quality of place.   Riding can also help encourage others to use active transportation and create more demand in the movement for more active transportation infrastructure investments in things like pathways and cycling lanes.

4.  The style.

Helmet, sling bag, one pant leg rolled up.  Need I say more?

5.  Have fun.

Do you enjoy riding your bike?  Why not do more of what makes you happy?!  Though the windy days can be rough, I find cycling to work to be a good start and end to the work day.   If you enjoy riding your bike, I’m sure you will find the same!

So give it a go. Try it once!  I dare you.  Tune up the bike see why cycling is America’s fastest growing mode of transportation to work.  2014 Bike to Work week (May 12-16)  provides the perfect incentive for Western Nebraskans to start with $750 of gift certificates to Sonny’s Bike and Fitness available to win and many businesses offering discounts for cyclists all week. Register at!   Happy trails!



Regional Forum Possibilities

In planning, the process is usually centered around a vision of what we want a certain community or region to be like, or what we want to do together.  As we’ve found out in our regional economic strategy, it’s also important to consider what you as a community are prepared to do; what you’re ready for.  Through out our public meetings in November and December of 2013 and in our first steering committee meeting of this year, it was identified that an regional online forum would prepare our communities for future collaborative opportunities.  A regional forum would help feed a pool of shared knowledge within our area, allowing leaders and citizens to share opportunities and accomplishments, ideas and conundrums.  Not only would this lessen the pressure of missing out on an in person meeting, but it could make those in person meetings more focused and effective.

One model to draw from is Vermont’s Front Porch Forum, a website connecting neighbors for any thing from locating a lost dog to organizing for a community issue.   In 2011, when tropical storm Irene hit,  rural communities using the forum were able to organize, relay information, and reach a better audience for the long term recovery effort much faster than towns not using the forum.  FPF is unique in that anyone can start a community forum for their community and anyone can start a topic.  With each forum being neighborhood focused (only hundreds of members) those who comment feel safe but are also held accountable for their words.   Its ease of use and relevancy has led to a high community engagement rate, with many places having over 50% of their households subscribed.

Another model close to home is MindMixer.  This service started in Omaha by planner Nick Bowden provides a wide variety of ways for folks in the community to interact through polls, forum space, and posed questions.  MindMixer has engaged over 800,000 citizens from over 400 communities across the country and continues to grow.  MindMixer has a more formal feel to it than Front Porch Forum, however.  This can help to focus discussion but also relies more on the moderator to sustain conversations.

Some versions of a community forum exists in our area with the Scottsbluff area garage sale facebook page and the Chadron KCSR guest book.

How might we get ongoing collaboration while also allow discussion to be natural and organic? Maybe we are after a glorified e-mail thread between local leaders.  Maybe regional development talk can be part of a larger forum that hosts conversations for local communities. Could we create a partnership between local newspapers, a new website, and facebook to create a go to place for information?   Possibilities are wide open. What is apparent now, however, is that we have much to gain from increased collaboration and relying solely on in person meetings is not sustainable.  What do you think?  We’d love to hear your thoughts.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Front Porch Forum’s co-founder Michael Wood-Lewis in an answer to my email that could be food for thought for our own effort.

“Some have described FPF as fertilizer.  Apply it to a town and watch community grow from the enriched soil.  What grows varies by location, but FPF always seems to empower people interested in making progress.”

Daniel |


Moving Forward as One Community

With the champagne popped and holiday decorations bracing for day they are once again exiled into storage, we are gearing up to dive back into our CEDS process here at PADD.  Actually I have always been in it, but the past month of analyzing the information shared at the public meetings has meant more time in the office and less time with others so I’m glad to have company in the process again.  I was very pleased with the meetings and we’ve come out with what I think is a workable framework for moving forward.

Coalition Framework:  Ongoing Collaboration

January- April:  Monthly steering committee meetings (Public Invited)

February or March:  Regional Coalition Kick-off

April: CEDS Deadline

Beyond April:  Continued development and implementation of the strategy

Through-out:  Focus groups, partners, and individual’s guidance sought as needed

Key Themes:

Shine Theory: I don’t shine if you don’t shine

Sustainability: Social, Financial, Environmental

Benefit in one community = benefit in all our communities

Collaborating to Compete

Asset Based Development

Innovation:  Creating new ideas with what we have

Healthy communities

Areas of Action

-Industry Growth (Macro Level)

-Business Growth (Micro Level)



-Skill Training



To decode this a little bit, the ‘areas of action’ are the areas where we will focus our attention in the plan to actually “get stuff done”.    Industry Growth, Business Growth, Infrastructure, Education, Skill Training, and Housing were the areas identified by the public as most important to sustainable economic prosperity.   You may notice that these headings are incredibly broad, which brings us to the next part of this process.

Within these ‘areas of action’ there were dozens of different ideas for how we can make a regional investment for a brighter future.   Everything from medical tourism to business succession planning to regionally coordinated housing development came up.    We obviously can’t do everything, so we’ll need to make some choices.   Informed choices, more specifically.  Where is the greatest need?  What will give us the best return for our investment?

The key to this task will be a healthy mix of data and analysis, shared information, and  committed drive.   PADD can’t do it alone, no one town can do it alone, and no one county can do it alone.   We at PADD look forward to working with all of those in our 14,000 sq. mile community in this next phase!

Our next steering committee meeting will be January 9th, 2014 at 10:30 am in Twin Cities Development’s offices in Scottsbluff.  1620 Broadway.   Per public request, all those interested are welcome to attend.



Gear up for a bike friendly Western Nebraska

Upon moving to Scottsbluff, one of the things I enjoyed most was how I am able to comfortably bike to most places I need to go in town.  With 8 am school and work traffic, it often takes me less time to bike to work than to drive.  The panhandle’s low humidity, relatively flat terrain, and beautiful scenery, also makes this area of the country a great place for recreational bicycling.  However, it’s easy to see we have not reached our potential for bicycling in the area.  A group meeting last night was a step toward a more bike-able western Nebraska.


Above: A good turn out for Tuesday’s meeting.

Indeed, our relatively low traffic volumes, scenery, and climate would seem to be good conditions for being “the biking part of the state”.  A strong cycling culture not only provides local cyclists with recreation opportunities, but can also be yet another opportunity for tourism for the region.  Fun rides, road races, ‘gravel grinders’, and mountain bike trails all have great potential.  We can’t replicate the rocky mountains or black hills in the Panhandle, but what we do have control over is the culture we create through our attitude, initiative, and policies.

A strong cycling culture also is good for alternative modes of transportation in our area.  While traffic congestion isn’t a concern, and mobility is generally easy for people with cars, bicycling as a mode of transportation promotes healthy living and can help activate a typically auto dominated streetscape.

So how do we make ourselves an area known for its good cycling culture?  You can start by liking this facebook page (  Otherwise, simply riding your bike more, promoting events, and bringing it up in conversation are good places to start, as well.  One of the best things we can accomplish is simply building respect for cycling in our community, and we don’t have to wait for new bike lanes and trails to start doing that.


Regional Industry Strengths

Many of us probably have an idea of the industry strengths in our own county or community.  Equally important, however, are the industry strengths of our region.  Geographic areas differ in their assets and the strong industries in each area often reflect these assets.  Where regionalism becomes important is when communities and local businesses need to be competitive in a global market, a task more attainable with a critical mass of supportive businesses and companies.

The images in this post show comparative strengths of the industry clusters in our region.  A cluster is just a group of related activities (example: The ‘Health Services’ cluster includes: hospitals, home and residential care, medical laboratories, drug stores etc.).    Strength of an industry was measured by comparing the specific industry’s share of workforce, wages, or establishments to national averages.   This ratio is called the ‘Location Quotient’ or ‘LQ’.  If an industry in an area has an LQ greater than 1, then the area is more than meeting its own needs in that industry.   The industries listed in this first image are ones where the local share of total industry activity exceeded what would be expected by the national average (LQ> 1).  In other words, the listed industries in each county were stronger than the national average.


Many of these strengths would be expected, such as Education in Dawes County, home of Chadron State College, or Recreation and Visitor industries in Cheyenne County, home to Cabela’s.  Others may be less widely known.

The next image shows each county’s industry strengths relative to our own region.  Rather than using industry clusters, this uses traditional census industry groups.  The patterns are generally the same but local strengths appear here that would not when compared on a national level.  Examples are recreation and leisure opportunities in Dawes County  and financial services in Scotts Bluff County- both are strong within our region but are not as competitive when compared to the tourism in the black hills or financial service strength of the front range.  This map is useful for showing how we fill our own needs within our region.


These maps are not the final authority on what our region’s strengths are, but they should give us an idea of what our region has to offer in a competitive global market.   Within our region, we also can begin to see the composition of an efficient economic system.    As we move forward in creating a regional economic development strategy, this data will be important to consider for our investments as we try to grow wealth and jobs for the future.

Best regards,

Daniel Bennett |

Please feel free to contact me with questions, comments, or more information.