“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”
— Winston Churchill
Everyone wants things to be better, but nobody wants to change. No matter our preference, as long ago as 500 B.C., a Greek philosopher named Heraclitus observantly noted, “Change is the only constant in life.” To thrive requires not only acceptance of the reality that change is an unavoidable element of existence, but also an understanding of how change can produce positive outcomes and the ability to plan and implement adjustments that take advantage of predictable change.
Agriculture is the heartbeat of the economy and culture of central Nebraska. Here, we have long experienced the changes that technology and improved methods have brought to farming and ranching. Many who still make their livings off the land have seen bigger and more efficient machines, irrigation, enhanced hybrid seeds, and precision fertilizer and pesticide programs advance production beyond the wildest dreams of their beginnings. A constant change in ag has been the need for fewer and fewer farmers and ranchers to raise even more and more crops, cattle and hogs. Another is that the immense cost of production and thin profit margins have turned the concept of entry-level farming or ranching into a myth. Like all change, those that have most drastically impacted production agriculture can be perceived as good, bad or indifferent; regardless of the characterization, it would be silly to expect any reversal of the trend.
The Union Pacific in North Platte has experienced similar change. Keeping longer trains with more cars moving on the rails requires fewer and fewer people. Better machinery needs a reduced amount of maintenance and repair. Equipment has taken the place of much manual labor in track building and upkeep. Remote control technology is replacing some human operation of trains. Our community has lost several hundred U.P. jobs in the last year to such changes. As with ag, it would be folly to believe a “180” will occur at Bailey Yard. Union Pacific operations with fewer workers is a reality that our historic railroad town cannot escape and would be foolish to ignore.
If North Platte is to get better, to thrive, it will be necessary to adjust to the inevitability of fewer jobs in production agriculture and with the U.P. How do we plan for these changes that we know will continue to come whether we want them or not? What adjustments can be implemented to be sure that our community will be a place of opportunity where our children and grandkids will want to live?
Our City Council took a big step in the right direction by committing $1 million of Quality Growth Fund incentives to Chief Industries’ proposed development in the Twin Rivers Development Park, along Halligan Drive, and west of Iron Eagle Golf Course. A second step will be approving the soon-to-come tax increment financing proposal that will be necessary for Chief’s plans to become reality. By focusing on the area of our I-80 interchanges, the proposed development at Twin Rivers and along Halligan takes advantage of North Platte’s positioning as a regional transportation and retail hub. The contemplated retirement neighborhood near Iron Eagle builds on our town’s existing and growing strength as a center for health care and other professional services. The businesses that will occupy the buildings Chief will construct will provide jobs in transportation, logistics, elderly care and retail, all areas that are a natural fit for North Platte’s predictable future.
Local emphasis on increasing and improving residential housing in our community is another forward-looking effort toward positive change. QGF dollars, Nebraska’s Department of Economic Development grants, and funds from the North Platte Chamber of Commerce, UPRR, Great Plains Health and other partners have provided incentives aimed at the construction of 150 single-family residences by 2021. The city’s 2018 housing study identified the need for City Hall to enforce housing code standards as part of the effort to improve overall housing quality. New home construction and improvement of existing housing broadens the property tax base, increases the attractiveness of our town and says loud and clear that we are planning and working for a better future.
Hunkering down and hoping change will blow over ignores reality, produces stagnation and ensures ultimate failure. Being thoughtful, proactive and optimistic in the face of change is integral to making things better. Let’s reject the natural urge to resist, and multiply efforts to embrace, the coming changes.