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Ongoing Business & Housing Investments in City of Atkinson Generate Growth, State Recognition

DED Director of Field Operations Sheryl Hiatt (holding plaque at right) recognizes the City of Atkinson for attaining requalification as a Leadership Certified Community.

City honored for continued leadership in Nebraska’s Leadership Certified Community program.

The City of Atkinson (pop.1,298) has earned state recognition for leading partnerships to grow businesses, build housing and invest in downtown infrastructure. This week, the Department of Economic Development (DED) announced the City’s requalification for membership in Nebraska’s Leadership Certified Community (LCC) program. DED’s Field Operations Director Sheryl Hiatt recognized local leaders during Atkinson’s city council meeting on Monday, July 10. 

Atkinson is one of 31 Nebraska communities to qualify for the statewide LCC program. DED created the program in 2011 to help local leaders adapt to ongoing changes and opportunities in economic development. Qualifying communities must demonstrate preparedness in strategic and community planning, display readiness in technological development and invest in new and existing businesses. Certified communities earn designation in the program for five years and are required to update and maintain their websites.

Local developers in Atkinson continue to capitalize on state and local programs and partnerships to encourage economic growth. Over the past five years, the city’s LB840 program has invested nearly $1 million in business loans and more than $340,000 in reimbursement grants. Atkinson voters enacted the LB840 program, also known as Nebraska’s Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act, to collect sales tax dollars specifically dedicated to economic development. Since its inception, the program has contributed to more than 150 projects in Atkinson.

In 2021, Atkinson Economic Development added a Property Improvement Program to assist businesses with signage and facade updates. The program also contributes to structural investments, such as sidewalk development or building demolitions.

“Nebraska’s LCC program encourages leaders to create incentives that are unique to each community’s needs,” said LCC Program Coordinator Kelly Gewecke. “Atkinson’s Property Improvement Program not only complements the work businesses are already doing to grow, but also helps build relationships between business owners and city officials that are so important in economic development.”

Atkinson leaders continue to focus on growing relationships with DED and Central Nebraska Economic Development District (CNEDD) to improve housing opportunities. The city utilized funding from DED’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund (NAHTF) to convert a dilapidated residential lot into two duplexes. The community received $295,000 in NAHTF assistance, as well as $111,000 in LB840 and municipal funding for a total project cost of $406,000.

City leaders partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on an $88,950 project to install 15 solar lights in critical areas throughout the community. The USDA invested $29,000 in the project from its Community Facility Grant program, which included solar light installation for Atkinson’s maintenance shop, wastewater treatment plant, city well house and fire & rescue hall. Lights were also installed at West Holt Memorial Hospital, the Elkhorn Meadows housing development, Atkinson Mill Race Park & Campground and the Atkinson Community Center.

The solar project was completed in 2022, which will improve public safety and accessibility during electrical power outages.

“In today’s world, especially in rural areas, it is imperative for communities to demonstrate proactive leadership,” said Mayor Josh Erickson. “The citizens of our community must feel secure in the fact that their hometown is doing everything possible to remain viable and sustainable.”

The City of Atkinson utilized federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding, which was awarded by DED and administered by CNEDD, to update downtown sidewalks. The $287,000 project installed sidewalks that are now compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to allow for wheelchair accessibility. The new sidewalks are located in front of vital businesses in Atkinson, including the grocery store, hair salon, lumber yard, fitness center, community thrift store and city offices.

City leaders launched a new website and apps for Apple and Android smartphones in the spring of 2022, with assistance from the Entrepreneurial Community Activation Process (ECAP). The process, led by Nebraska Extension, created an opportunity for Atkinson residents to share their own community priorities through an online survey and a series of community conversations. The ECAP survey results showed that citizens wanted to be more connected with the City of Atkinson, which led to the updated website and new apps.

“The City of Atkinson prides itself on being a very progressive community and has always managed to complete whatever it endeavors to do,” Mayor Erickson said. “Atkinson certainly lives up to its motto ‘Atkinson, Getting Things Done’.”

For information about the Leadership Certified Community Program, contact Kelly Gewecke at kelly.gewecke@nebraska.gov or 308-627-3151, or visit https://opportunity.nebraska.gov/programs/community/lcc.

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