For Rural America, the Future Belongs to Those Who Embrace New Realities.
This is not your grandparents' rural America, and it's time to quit wishing it still were so. That was one message at the opening of the University of Nebraska's first Rural Futures Conference May 8, as several speakers noted there's a vibrant future to be built in rural America, but only for those communities and leaders willing to adapt and adjust to new realities.
The conference, which continues Wednesday and Thursday at the Cornhusker Hotel, has drawn several hundred participants for what Ronnie Green, NU vice president for agriculture and natural resources, has described as a way to rethink and reinvigorate higher education's role in supporting rural America.
Green said the time is right for such a reckoning. This year marks the 150th anniversary of two critical pieces of legislation that helped make America what it is--the Homestead Act that helped populate the Plains and the Morrill Act that established land-grant universities such as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It also is the 150th anniversary of the transcontinental railroad that proved key in establishing communities across the nation's mid-section.
NU is establishing a new Rural Institute, and the conversations at this week's conference are expected to help inform its mission.
Although agriculture was the foundation of rural America, and still is a critical part of its economy, but that's not all there is, says Green. "It's not just an economy of production," he said. "It's a natural resources economy. It's a knowledge economy."
UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman noted that many are nostalgic for the past when they think about rural America. "It seems to me this is at heart a very pessimistic view," he adds.
Gov. Dave Heineman and others said leadership in rural communities is key. "We know communities in Nebraska that have great leaders, and they're going to move their communities forward no matter how small they are."
Caleb Pollard, executive director of Valley County Economic Development in Ord, said young people want to "live in places where they can have meaning and purpose," and rural America can offer that.