Hayes Center, Nebraska

Craig Softley – Hayes Center

Softley Works to Revitalize Hayes Center

“Need something done, give it to a busy person,” said Stephen Covey more than 25 years ago in his seminal work, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”

Craig Softley is getting things done, and boy is he busy.

Softley, who lives in Hayes Center (population 200) in southwest Nebraska, is a farmer, software entrepreneur, acting newspaper publisher, representative with the local economic development corporation and is working to start a church.

He does all this while raising five children (all younger than age 10) with his wife, Rhea, a school teacher at Hayes Center. Did we mention he was busy?

Softley family
From left; Rhea, Colton (3), Cydney (5), Caylie (9), Carly (7), Celia (5 months) and Craig Softley.

Craig and Rhea, who is originally from Hayes Center, moved to southwest Nebraska in March 2016 to raise their children in a small town and try to contribute to the local community.

“God had a different plan for us,” Craig said of their return to small-town Nebraska and a simpler life away from the busy corporate world he had previously inhabited.

Before returning to Southwest Nebraska, the couple lived in five locations throughout the West and Midwest while Craig worked in a corporate job.

When they moved to Hayes Center, their plans consisted of nothing more than Craig helping his father-in-law farm and seeing what opportunities were available to a young man motivated to make an impact.

Their first order of business was finding a place to live.

“Housing was an issue,” he said. “We lived with my in-laws initially while we worked to fix up my wife’s grandparent’s house.” After three months of work, they had a place for their young family to call its own.

Craig quickly saw opportunities to help contribute to the community, becoming the only employee for the Hayes County Economic Development group in August of that year. In that role, it became apparent that while there are opportunities in rural Nebraska, there are also challenges that must be addressed: lack of high-speed internet, housing and good paying jobs for young people.

Craig had a chance to make a big impact with the EDC when he became the focal point of an effort to save the local newspaper.

“I had a call from previous owners basically saying they were shutting it down if a new owner was not found,” Softley said.

Hayes Center, Nebraska

So in July of 2017, he and his wife became part of a group of 14 families who took control of the county newspaper, The Hayes Center Times-Republican. He currently acts as the managing editor at the newspaper, which has been part of the community for more than 110 years.

“It was either put the group together to try and save the paper or see it go under,” Softley said about the purchase. The group of owners hopes to eventually empower the sale of the paper to someone local to keep the long-standing business running.

The paper currently has two part time employees in addition to Softley.

“They are the ones who really run the paper,” Softley said of the part-time employees.

But helping save and run the newspaper, farm with his father-in-law, and promoting economic development are just part of what he does.

In the spring of 2016, soon after arriving in Hayes Center, a discussion with his brother, who works in the construction business, made Craig realize there was an opportunity for someone who could come up with a software app that would help contractors work more efficiently, and therefore make more money.

“Currently when a contractor comes out to bid a project, they have to write everything down, then go back to the office, crunch a bunch of numbers and then get back to the customer,” he said.

Softley’s software will change that. His idea is to create an app where the contractor can enter all of the relevant information gathered onsite and enter it into the app using a small computer tablet. The contractor will then be able to calculate and deliver the quote in real-time to the customer without ever leaving the customer site.

This will allow for the contractor to deliver more bids in less time, thus leading to higher efficiency and more profits.

But Softley had a couple of problems. He was not a software developer, there are not a lot of computer coders living in rural southwest Nebraska, and he had no money to start the project. Using contacts he had from his previous life in corporate America, he found a group out of Indonesia to start the initial software development. Next, he needed cash to get it started. Who has money in rural Nebraska? Doctors and lawyers, of course. Softley found a doctor he knew who would be interested in funding the project.

The app is currently under development and is now being completed by a group in Lincoln doing the coding.

“You can develop in Lincoln cheaper than you can in Indonesia,” he said.

The software, Horizon Builder, is expected to be available in the spring of 2018.

Craig’s work on Horizon Builder created a buzz with the people who know him and has led to two new software projects, independent of the first. Both of the new projects are ag related. The first is an application to help seed dealers, while the second will be targeted toward implement dealers. Both of these projects are expected to be completed in the next year or so.

But there is more to Craig than farming, economic development and starting companies, there is a spiritual side.

Since arriving in Hayes Center, Craig and Rhea have been working to plant a church as part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance.

Soon after the couple arrived, Rhea started a Bible study with other women. They were soon looking for a way to get the husbands involved.

“We saw people traveling to Wallace or Curtis to go to church, or they weren’t going to church at all,” said Craig when discussing how the couple got involved with forming a new church.

Now, with four other couples, they are beginning a church of their own in a rented 4-H building at the county fairgrounds. They have found a pastor in rural Kansas who has expressed an interest in becoming involved, and the first service of the new congregation was in November 2017.

“I believe that is why God has brought me here,” Craig said.

With all of this, Craig still feels he has a lot to do. Things he still wants to see happen include: bring more investment back to rural Nebraska from those who once lived here, get a restaurant in Hayes Center, help other entrepreneurs get started, and recruit people back to the area.

As Stephen Covey said, “Need something done, give it to a busy person.”

Craig Softley is a busy person.

Bee Biz, Inc.

George Bunnell of Oxford has also found his path to a successful career in a small Nebraska town. Read about his George and his successful ag business, Bee Biz Inc., in Oxford.


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Bob Willis

Bob Willis is the Executive Director of Nebraska Rural Living and passionate supporter of rural entrepreneurship.
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