Small Towns Thrive Under Rural Futures Institute

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NEBRASKA CITY, Neb. -- If you drive around Nebraska, you see plenty of small towns and acres of farmland, but the population in those towns are shrinking by the year.

That's why a program called the "Rural Futures Institute" is working to help these small towns where they need it most.

In a series of regional forums, RFI along with local leaders are brainstorming on ways to make rural towns thrive.

RFI is a product of the University of Nebraska system to draw resources together from public and private companies.

This is the first time the institute is doing these forums the goal here is to engage these rural leaders and show them what works and what doesn't. RFI executive director Chuck Schroeder says the key for rural towns to survive is to have a strong captain leading the ship.

"It's not about location, it's not about the size of the population, or the diversity of the economy, it is always about leadership so we do invest in leadership in the youth level as well as developing leaders in rural communities," said Schroeder.

The topic discussed range anywhere from tourism to juvenile reentry into these rural communities.

RFI is currently working with 70 communities on over two dozen projects.

"Everything from healthcare to education, to leadership development that folks will see where there are resources out there to help them with real world problems in their communities," said Schroeder.

Greg Ptacek is the director of economic development in the city of Neligh. He had two summer interns, sponsored by RFI, help him on a YouTube marketing campaign.

"Our slogan for the town is 'Not Too Small To Have It All', and we wanted to showcase that," said Ptacek. "We are embarked on a branding campaign, and marketing Neligh and its quality of life marketing to our residents and people around the globe."

The goal of these RFI forums is to collaborate on ways to make hundreds of small towns in Nebraska destination spots.

"The rural way of life isn't extinct it's not going to die and we're holding our own,' said Ptacek.

There's two other regional forums; Oct. 9 at the convention center at the Cobblestone Hotel and Suites in Broken Bow and Oct. 14 at the Hampton Inn and Suites Hotel and Conference Center in Scottsbluff.