A happy dilemma
By Tim Linscott
Grant is lucky to have a housing problem. It is lucky to have no rentals, no houses for sale and a list a mile long of young people clamoring to get into this community.
Grant is lucky to have nowhere for businesses to expand or have families turned away daily because of a housing shortage, not a job market shortage.
I have been told by five people in the last few months their children would like to come home to live and start a business or work here, but do not want to commute from Ogallala or Imperial.
I say this is good, glad it is happening.
Am I crazy? Possibly, but I have been around this state and seen many communities the size of Grant, even larger, dying. Some of these communities are dying out slowly and not realizing it and others are dying out quickly and not caring.
There is a passion here in the county to not wither away and die, to become less than it was yesterday. I have seldom seen a community that is trying to save itself from spiraling downward with such passion.
At the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority (NIFA) meeting last week people were getting a bit frustrated by talking about the issue of a lack of housing. This conversation, apparently, has been going on since the mid-1970s, at least, and continued last week.
“When are we going to get serious about this?” a question posed from longtime carrier of the torch of this community, John Long, at the meeting reflected what I think a lot of people in the room wanted: direction, answers and action.
“We need to put on the spurs and quit beating this horse,” to quote from Rod Cornelius, who has lived here all of his life and is some way related to over half of the county. Rod has seen a lot of people go off to find their way in the world and never come back.
I have been to countless meetings regarding how to save the small, rural town. I have been to these meetings all over the state and the only thing I have ever really seen accomplished quickly is the leftovers from lunch are whisked away and put into ‘to go’ containers.
To see this passion, to see community leaders stand up and say, ‘Let’s get out there and do this, not say this,’ is tremendous.
To para-phrase poet Dylan Thomas, the community has said at this meeting it will refuse to “go gentle into that good night,” meaning it will die kicking and screaming as rural populations around the country continue to decline. In essence, these community leaders have rallied themselves to the refrain of the same poem, to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
This all may seem a bit melodramatic but maybe that is what the situation needs to make headway.
My true question here, being an outsider who just moved here less than a year ago, is, ‘Why hasn’t this issue been addressed sooner?’ It has been an issue for well over 30 years, so why now is there a call for action, not more words?
I agree with Rod Cornelius, let’s put on the spurs and move this horse forward.
When I started working with economic development years ago I was told, ‘If your ship is sitting still it is sinking slowly. Before you know it you have taken on too much water and can’t stop from sinking.’
If this town has recognized and only talked about it for nearly 40 years, the ship is sinking, albeit slowly. Lateral movement does nothing but take on water.
To keep this ship moving forward, I urge everyone reading this to get behind the city council and mayor. It is time to get involved, it is time to support decisions made at the local level, or voice opposition in an unbiased manner. Attend meetings, give feedback and stay vigilant.
Annexation is a key to this expansion and dealing with the issue.
There are some out there I am told who do not want annexation locally. Is this because they do not want the town to grow or do not want to pay city taxes while still receiving city utilities?
I am glad that this community has all of these problems. There are many communities in this state, heck, nation, that would love to have the problem of people wanting to move home where demand exceeds the availability in the housing market.
There was a seven percent drop in population in the county from 2000 to 2010. Having a lack of adequate housing being one of the biggest problems in the county should be a badge of honor for the community.
Look around the state and witness how many towns have an abundance of standard and sub-standard housing, plenty of nice and shabby rentals and the proverbial ‘mansions on the hill’ and no one to live in them, no workforce and no hope of ever drawing anyone back to those communities.
This is a problem we can fix here in Grant and the county. It will take all of us, it will take action, not words, to fill that void and expand. If we don’t expand and fulfill the need, we stand still and that means we will all sink.
I have seen within a year multiple businesses close, houses collapse in on themselves and a general lack of leadership on all levels turn a downtown from bustling epicenters of commerce to looking like London after the blitzkrieg.
The old boys would sit at the bar and talk about when the town used to have a clothing store, or when there were two banks or three restaurants. Now there is one, if any, of those things left.
I am tired of hearing those conversations and, thus far, have not heard any while living here and, frankly, I don’t want to be a part of having a hand in letting those conversations come true.
Kevin Poppe and I spoke at this meeting and we have growth potential here, we just need to foster that growth and begin growing. All we need to do is set it up and knock it down, as the saying goes, to reach the potential this community has for the future.
We have problems that can be fixed, which is better than many communities in this day and age.