KBR collaborates toward the future

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by jamesc  6/1/2017 8:41:08 AM --  MEADVILLE, NE – After nearly 50-years of living in north central Nebraska, Jerry Ehlers is feeling a force move through the region…a positive force, he says, is for the better. “To me, this is one of the first times where a totally voluntary group of people got together to try to make a difference in north central Nebraska.”

Ehlers, the former superintendent of Ainsworth Public Schools, spoke recently during the final session of a new leadership academy featuring representatives from Keya Paha, Brown and Rock counties, otherwise known as “KBR.”

The concept was hatched just over three years ago after Northeast Community College opened a new regional office in Ainsworth. In an effort to better serve the needs of its constituents in the western region of its service area, the College established the Tri-County Adult and Continuing Education Advisory Committee, which allowed members to communicate ideas on what credit and non-credit classes Northeast should offer in their communities.

Amy Johnson, Springview, said when Jim McCarville of Northeast’s Center for Enterprise asked
ri-County area business owners and individuals what they needed most in their communities, there was a strong consensus.

“Good leaders….employees make good leaders,” she said. “We took that information, and through the work of Jim and the KBR Leadership Advisory Board, the nine-month KBR Leadership Academy was created.”

With the assistance of McCarville and Sonny Corkle, Northeast regional coordinator in Ainsworth, the advisory board created a nine-month program that would recruit a group of emerging leaders from
Keya Paha, Brown and Rock counties and provide them with the tools, resources and knowledge that would allow them to step up and become the region’s next leaders.

“We did a great job picking our first class,” said Johnson, a member of the advisory board.

Participants came from all walks of life, from small business owners and bank employees to health care workers and the co-owner of a ranch.

“I think this is really exciting that this is something that our three counties are doing together,” said Advisory Board Member Kristine Gale, Bassett. “I know that Rock County talked about doing it ourselves. That was the original idea, but when Jim came in, we shared that we really wanted to try a leadership program.”

Gale said they connected the dots and realized that it was something that all three counties could do

“It is so much easier to do it as a region and as a group. There are so many more benefits to doing it that way as opposed to just Rock County. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of many partnerships that we can do amongst our counties and maybe even broaden it across the region.”

At the final Leadership Academy session held at the Meadville General Store, located geographically in the center of the KBR region, Gale recapped the past nine-months.

Topics included agriculture, business development, succession and retention, communications, education, economic development, entrepreneurship, government, health and wellness, and trends in their communities.

But the top issue identified is as common in rural Nebraska as it is in the state’s largest cities. “Housing,” said Gale, “…which I would say is the number one issue in all three of our counties, along with business development.”

Academy participants also heard from some high profile individuals, including former US Defense Secretary and former Nebraska US Senator Chuck Hagel, Dr. Matthew Blomstedt, commissioner of the Nebraska Department of Education and local and area civic leaders. They also toured several businesses, health care, and local governmental facilities in the KBR region.

“It’s been a wide variety of activities,” Gale said. “I may be a little bit bias, but I have seen a lot of these leadership programs across the state, and I know this is our first year, but I think we have put a pretty fantastic program together.”

Academy participant Ann Carr, owner of Tall Tails Taxidermy, Burton in Keya Paha County, said the experience opened her eyes as to what the region has to offer.

“I found out things about this Tri-County area that I had no idea were here. Some people may say we’re in the middle of nowhere. No! We are at the precipice of everywhere! Where else can you be an entrepreneur - and through the internet - work for a company halfway across the world and still raise your kids in an area like this?”

Carr said while there is still work to be done in the KBR area, she feels after the Leadership Academy experience, they are well on their way. 

“With our networking ability and now with our new friends in Brown and Rock counties, we are willing to work for change, we can make things happen.”

Other inaugural KBR Leadership Academy participants included Traci Alberts, Ainsworth, with GJW LLC; Linda Baugher, Bassett, with Rock County Hospital; Tamra Blake, Bassett, with Tri-County Bank; Ros Clark, Bassett, with Rock County Hospital; Hilary Dearmont, Newport, with Pride Grain; Brian Delimont, Ainsworth, with Three River Communications; Marcus Fairhead, Ainsworth, with West Plains Bank; Shannon Fleming, Bassett, with Rock County Hospital; Janelle Keller, Ainsworth, owner of Keller Studios;  Linnea       Steinhauser, Springview, owner of Little Sprouts Daycare and employed by Central Valley Ag; and Jaci Swanson, Ainsworth, rancher.

Johnson said members of the advisory board admitted they had no idea what would come out of the Leadership Academy when they first started working on the project, but they are pleased with the final result.

“So for our inaugural year, I would say we set the bar pretty high. We wanted the best results possible. We are so glad that you are walking away with much more knowledge of our area. We are so proud as to how this turned out.”

Advisory board members also credited Northeast Community College for working with them to bring the Leadership Academy to fruition.

Johnson said, “This wouldn’t have been possible if Jim (McCarville) had not started this, and with Sonny (Corkle) doing all the lead work on virtually everything, from working on the agenda to just making things happen. There is no way our advisory board would be where it is today if it wasn’t for Sonny and Jim to get this started. Northeast Community College serves a big area. They only did this for KBR. On behalf of the KBR Leadership Advisory Board, we want to thank you for making this happen.”

Gale echoed Johnson’s remarks.

“We sat around as volunteers for several months to try to figure out who had the time to coordinate this. We needed somebody…and about that time, Northeast hired Sonny to focus on the KBR area, which we are so thrilled about. So, if you ever hear anyone grumbling about the community college, let them know we have so many credit and non-credit classes now in the KBR area. We are just thrilled! Without Northeast, we wouldn’t be here today.”

Ehlers also expressed his appreciation for Northeast’s involvement in the KBR Leadership Academy.

“Not for running it for us, but for taking care of details in order for us to get it done. We devised the programming, it wasn’t a canned version. We built this with our people in mind.”

Ehlers credits the volunteer spirit in the Leadership Academy’s successful venture. 

Local and county governments, agencies and entities have assignments. We didn’t have an assignment,” he said. “We started out with a blank sheet of paper and a group of volunteers and said, ‘Okay,’ let’s have equal shares from each county and let’s make this work in a cooperative venture and see what we can do; not for Brown, not for Rock, not for Keya Paha, but for north central (Nebraska). I applaud you all. I think we have made a major step in the right direction for the Tri-County area.”

Ehlers said he’s optimistic on the future of the KBR region.

“I have dreamed for a long, long time to have collaboration among the tri-counties and I am so pleased it has finally come about.


             PHOTO CUTLINE

Members of the KBR (Brown, Rock and Keya Paha county) Leadership Academy are pictured at the Meadville General Store north of Ainsworth at the conclusion of a nine-month leadership program. Participants include (front row, l-r) Linnea Steinhauser, Ann Carr, Shannon Fleming, Janelle Keller, Hillary Dearmont, Jaci Swanson, and Tamra Blake. Back row, (from left) Marcus Fairhead, Brian Delimont, Traci Alberts, Linda Baugher, and Ros Clark.

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