Like all communities, North Platte from time to time confronts obstacles, suffers setbacks and comes upon difficulties. Just as is true of other towns, what ultimately becomes of North Platte depends on us — us individually and us collectively — and how we react to adversity.
Union Pacific, part of North Platte’s economic backbone, has reduced positions nationally, and we have not escaped those losses locally. U.P. jobs have been cut here, and more reductions may be on the near horizon. Whether this bad news turns out to be a challenge to be overcome or a nail in our town’s inevitable coffin depends on, that’s right, us.
A reaction at one end of the spectrum is contained in the Oct. 23 Telegraph report of the North Platte Planning Commission’s Oct. 22 hearing. That proceeding resulted in the recommendation that the City Council approve amendment of the city’s comprehensive plan and zoning changes to allow development of the vacant 62-acre plot in the northeast quadrant of the Lakeview Boulevard and A Street intersection. The planned development includes 160 residential units. At the hearing, a Lakeview resident opposed to the proposed development referenced the U.P. layoffs and questioned the wisdom of encouraging the construction of new residences in our town. The neighbor is quoted as having said, “There’s nothing to come here for.”
Not so! There is much to come to North Platte for. Starting with the fact that, despite the recent layoffs, U.P. still is and will remain a significant component of our town’s economic vitality. Yes, advances in technology have eliminated jobs. But nothing can change North Platte’s geographic advantage of being in the middle of our nation or the reality of the huge infrastructural investment represented by Baily Yard. There may be fewer jobs in the near future, but Union Pacific will be an important employer here for a long time to come. North Platte and U.P. depend on one another. Rather than treating recent reductions of local positions as some sort of community death knell, let us acknowledge the irrefutable truth that the railroad will require fewer employees but more technology and focus on making sure that those technology-related jobs are filled here in our town.
Others are making clear that they see North Platte as a place to come to. Chief Industries is moving forward on projects in our I-80 corridor that have the potential to produce up to $40 million in development. Revitalization of our downtown is moving forward, and the presentation of the planned design for Dewey Street is drawing rave reviews. Great Plains Health continues to expand on its already impressive status as our regional health resource, and GPH’s need for professional and support staff will only increase. The Shot in the Arm housing program — brainchild of the Chamber of Commerce and Development Corp. with added financial support of Quality Growth Funds, state rural workforce housing dollars, and local private contributors — is on line to add almost 200 new residences by the end of next year. There are several new hotels in various stages of planning and completion in our town. Bomgaars opened last week in the recently vacated Shopko building. More apartment units are on line for Pacific Place. Of course, there is also the proposed project at A and Lakeview, the one that was the subject of the public hearing at which a citizen suggested that there was nothing to come to North Platte for.
Some cannot, but many can see the advantages our community offers and the potential to build on them. We are a regional hub for retail, health care, professional and financial services. Our position on the railroad and I-80 make us a natural transportation logistics center with related opportunities. And that spot on I-80 offers boundless hospitality industry prospects. We are surrounded by some of the most productive farm and ranch country in the world, and value-added ag industry has limitless potential here. These already existing and prospective developments all mean jobs and related economic activity. This only scratches the surface of what there is to come to North Platte for.
Let’s reject the mindset that a setback foretells an inevitable doom and instead focus and build on our strengths. Does adversity mean that we wither and fade or that we overcome the challenge? All of us, individually and collectively, can decide that we will do the work to make North Platte better. It is up to us.