Leadership Award

Leadership Certified Community award was presented to the city. Pictured are (l-r): Judy Petersen, Sheryl Hiatt, Mayor Scott Menish, Nikki Schwanz and Chelsea Luthy.

The Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED) has recognized the City of O’Neill (pop. 3,625) as the state’s newest Leadership Certified Community (LCC). DED’s Director of Housing and Field Operations, Sheryl Hiatt, honored city officials during a special presentation on Friday, May 15. 

O’Neill is the 28th Nebraska community to qualify for DED’s LCC program, created in 2011 to help villages and municipalities adapt to ongoing changes and opportunities in economic development. Certified communities must demonstrate an understanding of and preparedness in strategic planning, and must display readiness in technological development to help new and existing businesses grow. Qualifying LCCs earn status in the program for five years and are required to maintain community websites to market local development, which may include information on available sites and buildings and regional employment opportunities. 

Ongoing success within O’Neill’s Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act, also referenced by Nebraska communities as the LB840 program, has led to a number of local business expansion opportunities. Over the past several years, O’Neill leaders have distributed $660,800 in LB840 loans to assist in the growth and retention of both new and expanding businesses. In addition, continued partnerships between the City, Holt County Economic Development (HCED) and the Central Nebraska Economic Development District (CNEDD) led to a number of business expansion opportunities.

“The City of O'Neill has a long history of working together with its community leaders and organizations to provide businesses the tools they need to thrive,” said HCED Director Darby Paxton. “These partnerships allow current businesses the opportunity to expand, which also creates an attractive location for new business growth.”

Strong regional and state-level economic partnerships have generated significant growth in O’Neill’s housing market. In the past year alone, the City of O’Neill distributed more than $3,000,000 in Tax Increment Financing bonds for an assisted living expansion project and the renovation of a building to house five businesses.

Later this month, area leaders will celebrate the completion of a one-duplex and one single-family residence workforce housing project, made possible through local investments and assistance from Nebraska’s Rural Workforce Housing Fund. Introduced by Senator Matt Williams and approved by the Nebraska Legislature in 2017, the Rural Workforce Housing Investment Act provides matching grants to nonprofit development organizations to reduce the cost of workforce housing in rural areas. Central Nebraska Economic Development, Inc. (CNED, Inc.) received funding to assist in a variety of rural workforce housing projects across the Central Nebraska Economic Development District, which includes the City of O’Neill.

“The steps to becoming a Leadership Certified Community, led by our city’s outgoing Clerk/Treasurer, Nikki Schwanz, were vital in showcasing O’Neill’s leadership, attractions, businesses and overall quality of life,” said Mayor Scott Menish. “We appreciate her dedication to our community and overall efforts to continue its growth.”

Schwanz attributed the City’s success in earning LCC status to CNEDD Community Development Specialist Chelsea Luthy.

"Congratulations on this tremendous accomplishment,” CNEDD Executive Director Judy Petersen said. “O'Neill is committed to expanding and attracting people and businesses for future growth and sustainability, and now joins three other communities in the district who have been designated as leaders in our rural Nebraska region.”

Additional community developments include the completion of a new water tower and the City’s Fitness Challenge Park. Local leaders named the park after Kippure Adventure Park in O’Neill’s twin city in Blessington Co., Wicklow Ireland.

Paxton said creative community leadership plays an important role in highlighting north-central Nebraska’s strengths to locals and visitors.

“O'Neill has demonstrated great leadership in the innovative ways in which it provides for its residents as well as the many tourists that visit. Local leaders are constantly exploring every possibility to make their city better not only for its community members, but for the good of all of Holt County.” 

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