Thomas C. Sorensen Seminar: Policy Models and Innovations for Small Town Success


Small Town Success
Why is it that some small towns in Nebraska thrive while others struggle? Despite persistent challenges to rural and small community economic vitality, numerous opportunities exist to implement sustainable community or entrepreneurial-based initiatives that can contribute to economic growth and quality of life. This seminar introduced participants to a variety of options and strategies for developing policies geared towards small-town success. Seminar leaders discussed both conceptual and real models of successful small communities, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the policies employed. The goal of the seminar was to equip participants with a thorough understanding of basic policy models necessary to understand or engage in community success initiatives.

Seminar Leaders
Randy Cantrell is a Professor and Extension Community Resource Development Specialist with the Center for Applied Rural Innovation (CARI) at UNL Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Dr. Cantrell received his B.A. in Anthropology and Economics from Michigan State University (1971), M.S. in Labor Studies from the New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations (1973), and Ph.D. in Development Sociology from Cornell University (1976). He joined CARI in October of 2001, following six years as Director of the University of Nebraska Southeast Research and Extension Center. Prior to coming to Nebraska, Dr. Cantrell had a 17-year career with Cooperative Extension at the University of Minnesota in various outreach and administrative roles, culminating in five years as Director of Outreach at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. Dr. Cantrell grew up in the small Southern Michigan community of Jonesville, where his family operated a bakery on Main Street. His academic and teaching interests continue to reflect his commitment to small rural communities. As the Director of Minnesota’s State Data Center in the early 1990’s, he became interested in how communities and institutions adapt to demographic changes, and he has advised communities throughout the Midwest on the nature and impact of demographic trends. His research has focused on institutional change in rural areas, and his publications reflect that interest, with a special emphasis on the role of the rural church.

Peter Longo is a Professor of Political Science and Director of the Honors Program at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. In addition to serving in teaching and administrative capacities as Chair of the Department of Political Science, Dr. Longo is also a leader in his department and UNK’s active role in enhancing the civic life of the state of Nebraska. He received his B.A. from Creighton University, and J.D. and Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Dr. Longo is co-author of a book on the Nebraska Constitution and co-editor of a book on water policy on the Great Plains. He has published articles in Environmental Law, Natural Resources Journal, Public Land Law Review, Great Plains Quarterly, Social Justice Review, The Forum of the Association for Arid Land Studies, and Creighton Law Review, as well as book chapters on constitutional and environmental issues.

Janell Anderson Ehrke is founder and Executive Director of GROW Nebraska (Grassroots Resources and Opportunities for Winners) – a non-profit marketing and training program based in Holbrook for arts and crafts businesses throughout the state. GROW Nebraska assists entrepreneurs in arts and crafts with economic opportunities and trainings, and its membership has grown substantially since 1998. Anderson has been highly involved in economic development projects as chairperson of South Central Community Builders, Business Retention and Expansion consultant with the University of Nebraska, and Southwest Nebraska regional coordinator for the Nebraska Community Foundation. She lives on a farm in Stamford with her husband and two children.

Robert Blair is an Associate Professor of Public Administration at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He received an M.P.A. from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Nebraska-­Lincoln. Dr. Blair has conducted applied community development research and delivered strategic planning services to more than 40 Nebraska communities while at UNO’s Center for Public Affairs Research. His professional experience includes work as a community developer, industrial consultant, assistant city manager, personnel director, and public works administrator and planner. Dr. Blair has published in Public Administration Quarterly and Public Administration Review. He also served five years as the editor of the Journal of the Community Development Society.

Scot Blehm is the Rural Initiatives Director for Congressman Tom Osborne. Mr. Blehm is a native of Western Nebraska and lives north of Mitchell, where he farms and maintains a family cattle operation. He received Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in molecular biology from Colorado State University, and has conducted agricultural science and crop research with the Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff before joining Congressman Osborne’s office. He lives with his wife Stephanie and 10-month-old daughter Lindsey.

Judge Cloyd Clark of McCook has been a Judge for the 14th and 11th Judicial Districts of Nebraska since 1973. He has extensive experience in juvenile justice, family law, and substance abuse issues in rural Nebraska. He has previously served as President of the Nebraska County Judges Association, Executive board member and Chair of the Rural Courts Committee and the Literacy and the Courts Committee of the National Conference of Special Court Judges of the American Bar Association, and a variety of other initiatives involving children and families in the justice system. Judge Clark has a BA and JD from the University of Nebraska. He likes to sing bass, loves small towns and local stories, and is the Founder of the Buffalo Commons Storytelling Festival.

Joe Francis is an Associate Director for the Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Environmental Assistance. He received an undergraduate degree from UNL in Environmental Health in 1975 and a Master’s of Public Administration from UNO in 1988. Joe has been with the Department since 1975, serving in a number of regulatory capacities. In 1998 the Division of Environmental Assistance was formed, and Joe accepted his first non-regulatory role. One of the primary programs in the Division is the Nebraska Environmental Partnership program that was formed to assist small communities to comply with federal environmental mandates. The program has worked directly with over 120 communities, most with populations of less than 500, in the performance of Community Assessments. Community Assessments provide a “snapshot” of a community’s environmental infrastructure and serve as useful planning tools for the future. The NEP program is one of only three community assistance programs administered by environmental regulatory agencies in the country.

Randal Gunn serves as the Coordinator for the South Central Nebraska Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) office at Doniphan, NE. He has worked as a conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Nelson, Geneva, Wahoo, and Wayne, Nebraska, since 1983. He is an instructor with the NRCS National Management Training cadre and a member of the Soil and Water Conservation Society and The Groundwater Foundation. Mr. Gunn has a B.S. in Agronomy from UNL and a Master’s degree in Public Administration from UNO. He also volunteers with Habitat for Humanity and the Boy Scouts of America.

Nancy Hoch is the President of the River Country Economic Development Corporation in Nebraska City. She also serves on the boards of the Nebraska Community Foundation, Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, the Nebraska City Housing Task Force, and is a member of a number of other civic organizations. She previously served twelve years as an elected member of the University of Nebraska Board of Regents, was President of the Otoe County Republican Women’s Club, and an officer with the State Republican Central Committee. She was the Nebraska Republican Party nominee for the U.S. Senate in 1984. She graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in Political Science and International Relations. She and her husband Richard have three children and four grandchildren.

Scott Hoffman joined Ben Nelson’s staff during the campaign of 2000 as his deputy press secretary. Following the election, he was appointed Senator Nelson’s staff assistant for Central and Southwest Nebraska. Previously he had worked as a journalist for 10 years in newspaper and radio, his most recent stint being the City Editor at the McCook Daily Gazette. He is a graduate of the University of Nebraska at Kearney and McCook Community College. He has a wife, Darcey, and three children.

Sharon Hueftle currently works at the Farm Service Agency as an independent business consultant. She has served as Executive Director of Behavioral Health Resources, Inc., and was a trainer for the REAP Basic Business Training & Education Program of the Center for Rural Affairs in Walthill, among many other civic and academic positions she has held. In response to the threat of losing the local school in her district, Ms. Hueftle organized a Community Development group in Eustis seeking to sustain the population, increase employment opportunities, expand the property tax base, and improve quality of life. She has a husband and three sons and two daughters, and enjoys working with the 4-H Club.

Odee Ingersoll is the Director of the Nebraska Business Development Center. The Center assists over 300 businesses or entrepreneurs each year with business plans, financial analysis, marketing, advertising, and general business consulting. Mr. Ingersoll was previously an owner for twenty years of the Kearney Hotel, several restaurants, and a graphic design business. He is currently an ex-officio board member of the Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce.

Barry McFarland is the business manager at Mac’s Creek Vineyards & Winery in Lexington, family-owned and operated by the McFarland’s. The twelve-acre Vineyards is located on the banks of Spring Creek, where eight types of grapes are cultivated. Their first planting season was in 2000. The inspiration for the Vineyards & Winery comes from a true love for family and community, and a desire to give the people of the area a local business they can be proud of. Mr. McFarland is also an educator with the Lexington Public School System, and a graduate of the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

Sandra K. Scofield is Director of the Nebraska Rural Initiative at the University of Nebraska. Scofield has degrees in Social Sciences and Education and in Educational Psychology and Measurements. She has worked in education and in a major U.S. aerospace corporation, has been a partner in a small business and family farming and ranching operation, and has served in a variety of governmental positions, both appointed and elected. Scofield served as a state senator in the Nebraska Unicameral for eight years, where she was a leader on education, natural resources, and rural development issues. She was a member of the Appropriations Committee and chaired the Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families. She also served as Vice-Chair of the National Conference of State Legislators Committee on Agriculture, Food Policy and Rural Development. Upon leaving the Legislature, Scofield served as Chief of Staff for the Governor and as a Special Assistant to the Governor for planning and budget, where she was responsible for directing the strategic planning and budget process. She is a member of Rotary and has participated in the Teammates Program. In addition, she continues to manage a small family farm and ranch in northwest Nebraska.

Scott Stockwell is currently the Executive Director of the Fillmore County Development Corporation. He is a graduate of the University of Nebraska – Lincoln Business College with a degree in Finance. Mr. Stockwell has worked as a Business Manager in both the public and the private sector, and was previously the owner of a restaurant.

Al Wenstrand is the Director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. He was appointed in 1999 by Governor Mike Johanns. Prior to this, he was the Executive Director of the Sarpy County Economic Development Corporation. Mr. Wenstrand’s office was located in the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, where he and his staff worked on economic development projects. Before his work in economic development, he was a teacher, including eleven years of teaching marketing at Bellevue West High School. In 1989, Mr. Wenstrand was named the National Marketing Educator of the Year by the Marketing Education Association. He has a B.S. in Business Administration and an M.A. in Education from the University of Nebraska-­Lincoln.

Todd Wiltgen represents Senator Chuck Hagel on general business, housing, federal tax, and Native American issues, from the Senator’s Lincoln office. Mr. Wiltgen is originally from Kearney, where his family and brother run small businesses. He received a Bachelor of Science degree with an emphasis in accounting from UNK.