Learning from Each Other with Jason Tuller

Learning from Each Other with Jason Tuller
November 21, 2022

Is there a community that you see that is doing something well? Perhaps you wished your community was able to copy their success? Maybe you can.

There are some communities that have a track record of success. Maybe they have had success in attracting new housing. Maybe their downtown is full and vibrant. How do you learn from them? A simple way is to pick up a phone. Call the city office, ask them questions about their success. Many times there is a process that they have followed in order to bring change to their community.

There are a lot of various grants available from the state for downtown revitalization, housing, or infrastructure. These grants are competitive, there are always more application request than there is money available. Those communities that win consistently are following the grant guidelines properly. They have worked with the grant managers to get their applications finished and to get through all of the steps needed to be considered a good applicant.

In many cases granting agencies look for capacity. Does your community or organization have the capacity to handle grant reporting? Do you have proper accounting, audits (if required), and the ability to manage the funds once they are given to you? Do you have the match money required for the grant, or a plan to get that money? Is the project something where you need pre-applications for subgrantees (if you are getting housing rehabilitation money, do you have some homeowners with applications already submitted)?

Getting outside grants into your communities can really make a change. I live in Hebron, and when I moved in the downtown didn’t look good at all. They tore one building down and literally the front of the next door building fell down. Many of the local downtown buildings needed significant rehab. The city of Hebron has been very successful in getting downtown revitalization grants for the community. It has been a marked improvement in downtown, many business storefronts have been restored and rebuilt. It is a great change. They just received a second round of grant funding to do more business storefronts.

If you call one of these successful communities, don’t be surprised if the answer that you receive is that the process started X years ago. Like many things in life, local improvements and grant applications are not a quick fix. In my former position as a community developer, I was placed in a position where a housing project had been in the works for three to five years before I came into the position. They had built a relationship with a housing developer for many years before a project came to town. They had to build that trust with him before he would commit to visiting the community and then to building homes. Then he received some grants and financing and was able to build some homes. We were able to work with him on another project a few years later. That second project took two years to get our application approved. Nothing comes quickly.

If you see a successful community, give them a call, ask some questions. See how long they’ve been working on the project that you’re interested in. Ask them what projects came before. How did they get community buy in? How did they prove that buy in to the granting agency? Were there surveys involved? Who helped with those surveys? How many times did you apply before you were approved? How do you manage the paperwork? All of these questions will lead you to more information that you can use as you build your community.

If your community could benefit from any of Rural Prosperity Nebraska's ideas that I’ve discussed in this column, please reach out to me. I’d love to speak to your community about these topics. You can reach me at jason.tuller@unl.edu or at the Thayer County office at 402-768-7212.

Jason Tuller is an Extension Educator for the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. He works in the Rural Prosperity Nebraska program and covers ten-county area including Kearney, Adams, Clay, Fillmore, Saline, Franklin, Webster, Nuckolls, Thayer, and Jefferson Counties.