ord sunshine pumpers

life in rural nebraska

“Thinking in terms of value instead of growth”

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Fast Company has a fanscinating read on the recession and its impact on old auto industry towns like Flint, Michigan: let the towns shrink.  Their premise is that with such a decline in population, the mantra for current and future leadership is to manage the city smartly as they contract.

Why is this important? As an older article from USA Today states (emphasis mine):

“Everybody’s talking about smart growth, but nobody is talking about smart decline,” says Terry Schwarz, senior planner at Kent State University’s Urban Design Center of Northeast Ohio. “The center runs the Shrinking Cities Institute in Cleveland, a city that has lost more than half its population since 1950. “There’s nothing that says that a city that has fewer people in it has to be a bad place.”

That group’s research has shown that population growth doesn’t always bring cities wealth. Bakersfield, Calif., grew 35% in the 1990s, the second-fastest gainer; per capita income, however, declined 7%. Las Vegas was No. 1 in population growth but 38th in income growth last decade.

How does this apply to Ord and Valley County? While it is true that Valley County, as much as most rural Nebraska has declined in population over the past 80 years (not a typo), our retail pull and local spending power is as good as its been since 1991.  We’ve documented time and again that our community is a hub of vitality and vibrancy even in the face of population decline.  With young families moving back to the area, community re-investment, and national noteriety to name a few trends, you’ll find Ord and Valley County are poster children for new models of rural economic development.

While our greatest threat still lies in addressing the long-term impact of sustained population decline, there is hope that mitigating this challenge is possible in a way that doesn’t include saying goodbye to community vitality.  As a reader at Fast Co. so astutely states, we need to think in terms of value instead of growth.

Where is the value of being in Ord and Valley County?  If you can’t see it or feel it, it’s likely you never will…

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Written by Caleb

July 28, 2009 at 3:41 am

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