Midlands Voices: Acting on key goals can give cities a needed boost, Norfolk mayor says
The writer is mayor of Norfolk, Neb.
“The best way out is through.”
As Robert Frost penned these words many years ago, he likely couldn’t have envisioned an environment quite like the one we find ourselves in now.
Nevertheless, the lesson applies today just as it did then. As we navigate periods of hardship and uncertainty, the most effective approach to coping is not paralysis or dithering, it’s perseverance and unrelenting focus on pushing forward.
Governing bodies large and small are talking about “stimulus plans” to help jolt life back into economies shocked by the coronavirus pandemic. As some local governments scramble to pull together new programs, those that already had aggressive growth plans in place will best be prepared to regain economic momentum.
In Norfolk’s case, several city-led development initiatives, some that have been years in the making, are now materializing at just the right time. These plans and projects act as ready-made stimulus for a local economy poised to bounce back. They encompass areas of significance for any Nebraska community with hopes to grow: infrastructure development, business growth, quality of life investment, and housing construction.
- We’ve used this period of lighter traffic to press ahead on street and bridge work. Major street improvements, multiple planned bridge repair projects and the paving of remaining unimproved city streets are underway. At the same time, utility extension projects are feeding new housing developments and industrial needs. Infrastructure work provides the added benefit of quickly pumping new money into the local economy.
- Past business recruitment efforts have been limited by a dearth of shovel-ready land for new projects. To remedy this, city, business and community development leaders came together to develop a new 140-acre business park. The park’s focus is job creation in fields of emerging demand in the new economy and areas of comparative advantage for our region: precision ag technology, water conservation and quality, and renewable energy generation.
Meanwhile, the emerging “Northeast Nebraska Growing Together” initiative — drawing from the assets of local and state leaders in business, education, government, agriculture, philanthropy and the arts — is working intently to build a unique, vibrant live-work-play environment in our downtown district that appeals to young workers. In addition, the placing of fiber optic infrastructure across Norfolk, a long-awaited project, is providing the option of increased Internet speeds and data usage to every home and business. Today people can do nearly any kind of work from anywhere; we hope to make it easy for them to do it here.
Quality of life.
- Plans to reconnect northeast Nebraskans to Norfolk’s namesake, the North Fork River, move forward without delay. The aim is restoring the river to its natural course, reconnecting people to the water, and prompting private “infill” redevelopment in the process. We continue park and trail expansions throughout the area, encouraging residents and visitors to engage with nature and utilize the regional asset we have in the Cowboy Trail. We’re building a new skate park, creating a new downtown pocket park for farmers markets and festivals, and designing a community solar and battery storage project, a first of its kind in the state that will offer citizens renewable options and help lower energy bills.
- Thanks to years of planning and facilitated by investment incentives and infrastructure development, nearly 350 new housing units are currently under construction while hundreds more are planned in phased developments. They span wide-ranging projects that bring a unique new variety and diversity of housing options to the market, emphasizing smaller, higher-density living spaces.
“The best way out is through.”
These plans and projects collectively form a uniquely Norfolkan stimulus program, and they’ll help Norfolk and northeast Nebraska push through this unfortunate, unanticipated period and get back to business.
Some have questioned moving forward with existing plans, as if this virus should be an excuse to stall anything and everything. This is small-mindedness. Hand-wringing and second-guessing are the refuge of those content to stand in place. The way out won’t be found sitting on the sidelines.
It will be the perseverance that comes with confidence in strategic action that guides us through this uncertain time, positioning us to come out of it even better and stronger in the end.