Community & Economic Development

National Program Targets Northeast NE Economic Development

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension and Nebraska USDA Rural Development have obtained funding for a regional economic development plan for Northeast Nebraska. The region includes Burt, Cuming, Dodge, Colfax, Butler, Nance Boone, Antelope, Knox, Cedar, Dixon, Thurston, Platte, Wayne, Stanton, Butler and Pierce counties.

The plan will be an outcome of the Stronger Economies Together program that has been successful in 50 regions in 28 states since 2009. Stronger Economies Together is a collaborative program between the United States Department of Agriculture, the Purdue Center for Regional Development and the Southern Rural Development Center at Mississippi State University. Read more...

May 8, 2014

Creativity, Our Brain and Our Community:  Putting the Pieces Together

By Anita Hall, PhD

Thanks to the kindness of my coworkers, I took the day off yesterday to enjoy the sunshine.  It was a day of sheer pleasure.  And I behaved like a child –“ no doubt about it. 

My creative mind took over and I made a fairy garden. It is housed in the little red wagon that we bought 30 years ago when the children were very young.  I bought tiny plants and potting soil.  Then I went home to try to create the items that fairies would need.  This led me to combing the house for "things":  cinnamon sticks for the fence; golf tees and marbles for the gazing balls; blue food color to make water.  One idea led to another and soon my fingers were stuck with glue.  It was a fabulous experience and a project that I will work on all summer.

During this process, my mind kept going to the question:  what will the neighbors say about this crazy woman?  After all, creativity and adulthood are two concepts that don't always find themselves together.  Creativity is often thought of as something only children are gifted at.  But as we look at our communities and dream of what they will be like in the future, it is imperative that we think outside of the box in a creative way. 

Our brains can continue to grow at any age.  One of the startling revelations is the improvement in our knowledge of nerve cell development among older adults.  Known as neurogenesis or brain plasticity, this new knowledge is showing us that the brain has the ability to change throughout life by forming new connections between brain cells, and to alter function.  The secret is to challenge the brain, to do novel and stimulating tasks that do not rely on established ways of doing things.

It's clear that keeping our imagination sharp would be a highly useful tool in creative thinking and problem solving in our communities.  Unfortunately, we do lose some of our playful curiosity and imagination as we mature.  Dr. Stephanie Carlos of the University of Minnesota says simple lack of practice is one reason.  We are forced to turn to logic, reason and facts and are forced to spend our time in reality and less of it in imagination.  Adults have also learned that it is not culturally appropriate to be wrong.  Creativity lets go of that assumption.  There is no right or wrong way of doing something.

So the next time you are facing an issue in your community, pretend you are a child again and look at the problem through their eyes.  Practice being creative in an environment that works for you.  Design and tie the perfect fly for your next fishing adventure; go to the used clothing store and recycle an old piece of clothing so it is new again; decorate a cupcake.  Or plant a fairy garden. 


"Why You Should Have a Child-Like Imagination" (

"Neurogenesis and Brain Plasticity in Adult Brains" ( brain-plasticity)

"Brain Plasticity in Older Adults" (

Leading Innovation in Your Organization

By: Dr. Anita Hall, Nebraska Extension Educator, Antelope County

It seems everybody is seeking innovation.  It is often viewed as a silver bullet for underlying organizational issues.  Innovation is not only about new products.  It is also about changing the way we work, providing new services to our clients, or changing business models.

Researchers at the Center for Creative Leadership have been studying how to effectively lead innovation.  It requires new mindsets, skillsets and toolsets.  If you are a leader asking for innovation in your organization, here are five tips that will help you succeed.

Commit.  Innovation requires resources and deliberate focus.  Start with a key organizational issue assigned to a small group and give them your best leadership and support.  Then get out of their way so they can find innovation resolutions to the challenge.

Work on the culture.  Shift away from the "management of creativity" (a control mindset) and towards "leadership for innovation" which calls for developing a culture and climate that promotes and acknowledges the creative process.  Without this supporting culture, breakthroughs and meaningful innovation that challenge the status quo rarely emerge.

Accept risk –“ really.  Innovation rarely works according to a predetermined plan.  In a culture where it's possible for people to try, make mistakes and learn from what happens, innovations can find their own path, flourish and add value.  Even so, the success of a new product, service or process might not be guaranteed.  What you must demand and can expect is learning –“ and the chance to succeed the next time around.

Hone your own creative competencies.  Most business leaders have bought into the myth that people are either creative or not.  To change this, you must first get in touch with your own innovation thinking skills.  Be a model; innovation is part of your job, too.

Finally, nothing kills innovation more than the "know-it-all leader."  A leader's job is not to tell people how to do things, nor is it to have all the great ideas.

The complete research report entitled Becoming a Leader Who Fosters Innovation can be found at:

The March 2016 issue of the Nebraska Energy Quarterly is now available on-line at

Rural Women Leaders: Building Family and Community Progress

A Weekly Blog by Dr. Anita Hall, Extension Educator in Antelope County

Dr. Hall's passion is studying the importance of rural women leaders and the difference they make in Nebraska communities. In her weekly blog, she lifts up the characteristics and skills rural women possess to help them be better leaders of their families, workplaces and communities.

Web Sites to Check Out:


Entrepreneurship  Education -- NE Department of Education


Nebraska Energy Assistance Network

Small Business

Security Squad


Nebraska Local Foods Network

Nebraska Market Maker - a free interactive web-based service that connects food producers, distributors and sellers to consumer markets.

Community Development

Demographic and Economic Profile for Burt County NE


Internet Connectivity and Use in Nebraska