Isolated and proud, there’s more to McCook than meets the eye
No one is a stranger for long in McCook.
When Linda moved to McCook from Denver, she missed the Denver nightlife, so when she saw an ad for a live concert at McCook’s Bieroc Café, she bought a ticket.
“The Bieroc is such a neat culture,” she said. “I felt like I was in Denver, except the Bieroc is better because everyone sits together at tables so you meet people easily and my social networking took off. McCook is an easy town to meet people and fit in socially.”
“McCook is isolated and proud,” says long-time resident, Gene Morris. “There’s no nearby Denver, Omaha, Lincoln or even Kearney to go to, so we do for ourselves, and we flourish.”
Although McCook, like many rural Nebraska communities, can boast of friendly people, excellent schools and low crime, it enjoys some amenities that many smaller communities don’t have, including McCook Community College, an airport with commercial service, a modern hospital and rivers, reservoirs and open space for hunting fishing, camping, boating and wildlife viewing.
And one more thing – the climate. As Rex Nelson, director of McCook Economic Development Corporation, says, “The climate here is wonderful – similar to Denver, but with less snow.”
A regional outlook
McCook was built on ranching and farming and that culture still sets the standard for community values – be authentic, be responsible, and pitch in and help are how things get done in McCook.
McCook serves as the economic hub for a wide swath of southwest Nebraska.
“In terms of our policies and decisions, we think regionally,” says Mayor Gonzales.
If a policy benefits McCook, then it needs to benefit Indianola, Cambridge, Benkelman, and all the other communities that surround McCook. We are all in the same boat. If these communities grow, we benefit, and if they shrink, we shrink.”
Despite its relative isolation, McCook’s economy remains solid. Unemployment is under 3% in the region due in part to growth in the health care and manufacturing sectors. Irrigation pivots, trailers, bleachers and press boxes and industrial hose manufacturing are among the manufacturing businesses seeking skilled employees.
As a town that recognizes the value of hard work, it’s not surprising that another of the region’s employment successes would be the Work Ethic Camp. An innovative correctional program designed for first-time non-violent offenders who might otherwise be prison-bound, the philosophy of the Work Ethic Camp is that behavior and attitude that reflect positive work ethics can be learned and transferred to all areas of an individual’s life. The overall goal is to reduce the risk of recidivism through offender behavioral change and assisting offenders back into the community. Each offender/inmate takes part in an individualized program that may consist of one-on-one counseling, GED classes, community service, work assignments, vocational training, parenting, anger management and other programming. Following a successful report of their stay at the Work Ethic Camp, graduates can return to probation in their own communities.
Support your local artist
Economic development research indicates that when communities promote the arts, they often advance their efforts to grow their population and attract new businesses.
Matt Sehnert, entrepreneur and owner of the popular Bieroc Café, books a nationally-recognized folk/acoustic musician nearly every month and the audience fills the house. The restored Fox Theater recently presented a cowboy musician/historian who enthralled the audience with stories about the cattle drives that passed near McCook after the Civil War. The Fox also stages a Community Concert series and the Southwest Nebraska Community Theater. These and other productions entertain a regional audience. The McCook National Bank sponsors the Hot Summer Nights concert series in the pavilion at Norris, Park. The Weeth Theater on the McCook Community College campus sells out every semester for a major stage presentation.
McCook is also gaining recognition for its annual Buffalo Commons storytelling Festival in May. Retired District Court Judge Cloyd Clark, tells how it all began. After hosting a Chautauqua in 1990, the city decided to organize its own. Following a year of planning and fund-raising, the committee invited Frank Popper, chairman of the urban studies department at Rutgers University, and his geographer wife Deborah to speak about their views of the future of population-poor counties in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.
“The Poppers were part of a very small group in the United States that was thinking about the future of the Great Plains,” says. Clark. “Their research concluded that the arid Great Plains will lose almost all of their people within the coming quart-century.” The Poppers proposed that this vast area of the Great Plains should become a massive ecological reserve which they would repopulate with bison and call the “Buffalo Commons.”
Mary Ellen Goodenberger finishes the story on the Buffalo Commons website, www.buffalocommons.org. She writes, “After glimpsing the future as told by the Poppers, town leaders itemized their assets and decided it was time to “accentuate the positive.” The southwest Nebraska tale deserved to be told, it was agreed. What better way to do it than through a storytelling festival? And, as a final rebuttal to the Poppers why not name this event the Buffalo Commons Storytelling Festival?” Now in its 19th year, the festival still thumbs its nose at those who would suggest we should all give up and move to the city.”
An emphasis on education
The McCook community has a rich history of supporting education. In addition to a high school, junior high, elementary school, an alternative school, St. Patrick’s Catholic School and Victory Christian Academy, the city also is home to McCook Community COllege, the first community college in the state.
The McCook High School drop-out rate is under 1%, the lowest in the state. Superintendent Grant Norgaard says, “The schools offer a variety of programs and paths to success including advanced placement courses, classes for gifted and talented students, and vocational-technical programs. The athletic programs develop successful teams. Girls softball and girls track teams in particular are often state rated. We teach more than athletics in our schools, though. The McCook High School journalism team has won more consecutive state titles than the athletic teams.”
McCook Community College, a division of Mid-Plains College, offers Associate of Arts Degrees, a Transfer Degree Discipline, Continuing education; and certificates in a wide array of subjects. See the McCook Mid-Plains College website for specific information on the many choices and opportunities available to students. http://www.mpcc.edu/programs
Mid-Plains Community College is known for academic transfer and the quality of graduates. Chuck Salestrom, Director of Public Information and Marketing said, “We track the students who transfer to the University of Nebraska at Kearney and University of Nebraska t Lincoln, and we learn that our transfer students graduate faster and with higher grade point averages than most other students. A two-year institution is a very good place to get started on career goals because the class size is small so students receive the attention they need to succeed.”
A proud medical history
The hospital and medical community thrived until the 1970’s when new technology and compliance rules made the facilities obsolete. Building a new hospital was beyond the resources of the Dominican order. The people of McCook rose to the challenge and opened a new hospital in 1974.
The recently renovated McCook Community Hospital http://chmccook.org/ provides advanced care to more than 30,000 people throughout southwest Nebraska and northwest Kansas. This critical access facility excels in surgery care, rehabilitation programs, obstetrics, emergency care, and offers a wide range of visiting specialists.
A mission to grow
In rural Nebraska settings, entrepreneurs and the businesses they sponsor grow communities, and in McCook entrepreneurs find a friendly atmosphere with financial and technical support available. The McCook Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) http://mccookne.org/ a public-private partnership, is dedicated to building a vibrant economy and maintaining a dynamic business climate in the region.
Attracting new businesses, supporting and developing long term businesses and providing resources to jump-start entrepreneurs are goals that the community supports with funding and technical expertise.
The Hormel Family Foundation, founded in 1999 by the late Ben F. Hormel, a McCook entrepreneur, is committed to education, entrepreneurship and economic development in the McCook region. The Foundation Board in collaboration with the MidPlains Community College and the McCook Economic Development Corporation backs talented entrepreneurs in the area and provides capital as well as business consulting services to help them establish and then grow their businesses.
McCook is a prosperous town with a rich past and a proud rural culture that makes it a little bit independent, a little bit stubborn, and a great place to call home.