Ord - Homegrown Tools

Ord, NE

Updated: 2022

In the face of dramatic population decline, Ord builds local capacity to pursue its four pillars of community economic development: youth outreach, leadership development, philanthropy, and entrepreneurship.

Median Household Income2020$49,639
Poverty Rate 202011.4%
Proximity to Urban Center 165 miles to Lincoln, Neb.
Proximity to Interstate Highway 70 miles
Case Study Time Frame 2001-2007
Municipal Budget FY2017350,000
Data Source: US Census, American Community Survey
View Complete Case StudyUpdated: Ord, 2022

In 2005 Ord was honored as the governor of Nebraska’s Showcase Community. Ord was the first community in Nebraska to become a state-certified community for economic development, and it has been featured in The New York Times and the Kellogg Foundation annual report. “This community has done an amazing job of selling itself and all that it has to offer,” Gov. Dave Heineman said. “Ord’s mix of strong local leadership, an active business community and an ability to make use of available resources to meet development goals has been particularly impressive. This is an example of how a coherent vision for economic development can pay dividends in terms of helping to attract new jobs to a community.”


Five short years before the governor praised the community, the 2000 Census put a number to a trend Ord officials already recognized: the town’s population had declined 10 percent over the previous decade. It was around this time that civic leaders decided to do something to reverse the decline. Between 2000 and 2006, Ord undertook a comprehensive revitalization effort with programs in four main areas: youth outreach, entrepreneurship, leadership development and philanthropy. Each component is linked and coordinated with the others, and these pillars have become a foundation for traditional economic development activity, including industrial recruitment and expansion.


What are the lessons learned from this story?


Financial resources and organizational capacity make a difference. Ord is fortunate to have a dedicated revenue stream for economic development at the local level (the local option sales tax). The community also benefits from having a professional paid staff to act as “organizational capacity” for economic development. These two factors distinguish Ord from many communities of similar size and give the community a competitive advantage.


Measure and monitor the impacts of a development strategy. The staff at Ord’s Chamber of Commerce and its economic development office have made it a priority to measure and continually monitor the economic, social, and civic outcomes from Ord’s economic development efforts. Documented impacts are useful for both external and internal audiences. Good data can be used to attract additional investment from outside sources and, by demonstrating a reasonable return on investment, can be used to build local support.


Communication is crucial. Ord bombards the community with information. Economic development staff members spend an ever-increasing amount of time publishing newsletters and writing articles for the local newspaper. They send e-mails to as many residents as possible and appear on radio broadcasts regularly. The idea is to replace rumors and “coffee shop chatter” with accurate information about what the organization is trying to accomplish. According to one prominent leader, “Creating a positive ow of information into the community is very important.”


A team approach to economic development is ideal. According to Helen Cullers, chair of the Valley County Board of Commissioners, a crucial component of Ord’s strategy for economic development was persuading folks the approach was right and convincing them to join in the effort. “Small town economic development must be a team exercise,” she said. “Even though it can take more time and hand-holding, you have to convince as many people as possible to join your team and to be willing to lend a hand.”


Preparation means opportunity. Ord’s ability to attract the $75 million ethanol facility demonstrates how the town’s preparation created an opportunity that would not otherwise have existed. The state-level authority working with the ethanol company knew about Ord’s development efforts (again, thanks to the town’s communication strategy) and contacted the Valley County economic development director. The timeline for this project was extremely tight, and the company needed a partner that was ready to go. Within hours, revenues from the sales tax were used to fund an environmental study of the project site. An infrastructure and incentive package was put together within days. The lesson here is that Ord had a team in place and ready to act when opportunity knocked.


Rural philanthropy can be a tool for building a sustainable pool of resources. New research suggests that rural residents in Midwestern and southeastern states have developed a culture of philanthropy that the coasts and Southwest, for all their wealth, do not yet have.52 The key is to create and market a local structure for aging residents to bequeath assets to local civic causes. The intergenerational wealth transfer over the next 50 years will be enormous, and small towns can position themselves to benefit from it.