Coming Together to Grow
York County, NE
The York County Development Corporation was established in 1996 and during the past twenty-one years it has been very responsive the business needs in its community. Its dedication to working as a cohesive team is expressed by its current tagline: “Coming together to grow.” It has parks, events, programs and recreational activities for every member of the community and York County is a safe and small community; it has all of the amenities of the city with the quality of life of a rural community.
The York County Development Corporation (YCDC) in Nebraska helps its community with whatever it needs and goes above and beyond what is required of a traditional economic development corporation. It recruits new businesses and emphasizes the expansion and retention of its existing businesses, housing, and workforce. It has become very involved with workforce development by partnering with the businesses and the education system in the county. The York County Development Corporation also works with the nonprofit organizations in the area.
The York County community has fourteen thousand residents, and its small size means that the community has to work together as one cohesive unit. Nationwide, every county has a gap somewhere in its economy. In York County, there are job positions that are difficult to fill, and people are looking for work and are not able to find anything. The hope is that with collaboration as a county, York can create a plan to help address those gaps. It hired a development coordinator this year specifically for housing and workforce development to improve on those issues.
The economic development corporation can get involved with all sorts of organizations and industries thanks to its office’s proximity to the chamber of commerce, the county visitor’s bureau and the community foundation. It does grant writing and pulls funding sources together for businesses, and it also helps with retail, agriculture, and manufacturing. “Somebody may walk in the door looking for help, and if the chamber and the visitor’s bureau can’t help, then they will ask us. It’s a lot of working together and being very versatile,” says Tony North, the president of the YCDC.
The history of York County has always surrounded agricultural businesses. It is home to three of the top seed corn companies since it has highly irrigated land and great soil. There are manufacturers besides those that produce agricultural goods, such as those that work with metal. Research and development in the agriculture business and other manufacturing industries has always been a priority for York County, contributing to its ongoing success. It focuses on advanced manufacturing with highly specialized and modern technology used in innovative ways.
York General Hospital is the largest employer in the county with approximately five hundred employees, and the seed corn companies in the area also employ a good number of people. Other important employers in the area include Cornerstone Bank, Advance Services Inc., Champion Home Builders, C-TEC AG, Henderson Healthcare, Nebraska Correctional Center for Women, Petro Truck Stops, UTC Aerospace Systems and Central Valley Ag.
“Our retail draw is 1.96 per capita, and the state average is 1. We are almost twice the state average for retail,” says Lisa, the executive director of the York County Development Corporation. This, again, has much to do with its location and has boosted its retail economy. People in smaller surrounding towns would rather travel to York County than larger towns like Lincoln that are further away.
The newest attraction for tourists and residents is the Clayton Museum of Ancient History on York College campus. It opened two years ago in September of 2015, and it has the most extensive collection of Roman artifacts west of the Missouri River.
Wessels Living History farm has been open for ten years, and this award-winning history museum attracts many visitors. The county also has the Henderson Mennonite Heritage Park and the car racing track Junction Motor Speedway in McCool Junction.
Camping in York County is a popular pastime since it has Recharge Lake and four large campgrounds, some with full-service connections. There are several parks in York, and the City of York is planning to expand the trail system that it already has to connect all parts of the City of York together. Residents will be able to travel to the aquatic park or the ball field from the trail system instead of driving by vehicle.
All of the communities within York County have special annual events and festivals. In September, a large festival called Yorkfest takes place and includes a five-kilometer foam glow run, a street fair, a coronation of a king and queen, a farmers’ market and a traveling children’s museum. McCool Junction has a Mustang Roundup that is very popular, and the county fair always attracts many visitors.
York College has a performance arts center, and its drama center has won several awards. It also provides an opportunity for athletics with a college soccer team and a baseball team that made it to the national level competition this year. York College is a small, religious-based liberal arts college, and it is unique because it recruits heavily outside of Nebraska. Over seventy percent of its students are not from Nebraska, and students love to stay in York County after graduation.
Every year on national Manufacturers Day, which takes place on the first Friday in October, the YCDC hosts educator tours. It shows educators the changes and differences in operation that have taken place in the last few decades. The modern technology in the facilities is combined with a clean and safe environment for the workers. YCDC also uses this as an opportunity to show the educators that there are good quality jobs in York County. The hope is that YCDC will retain some of the young talent that already exists in the County.
The yearly job fair in York County is a regional tri-county job fair and career day, and there are usually about fifty businesses and ten high schools that participate. Approximately two hundred and fifty students arrive to be exposed to all of the businesses in the area.
“It’s a long-term plan to let our kids know what is here and know that we want them to come back, and it’s also a short-term plan to help our employers find employees right now,” says Lisa. This is the fifth year for the job fair, and it has been a huge success.
“We hear these issues from the business community, and we are not just sitting back; we are trying to be proactive and try to solve the problems,” says Tony. York County also has a business after hours event every year to thank its manufacturers for staying in the county.
York County has a manufacturing academy in its middle school to increase interest in manufacturing at a young age. Cyclonaire Corporation was funded by a talent and innovation grant from the State of Nebraska for it to partner with York Public School and develop an interest in manufacturing among students in grade seven and eight. The purpose of the program is to allow students to be a part of the process from the conception of an idea to the actual production. A laser will be added to the middle school with the same CAST software that manufacturing companies are using.
Another funding source is creating a similar program for the high school, to continue piquing student interest after middle school. “They will go from the concept to working with the software and professionals in our manufacturing companies to production and then selling the product. [The profits from] the kids selling the product will keep the program going,” says Lisa.
The manufacturing academy is teaching students how products are designed, how to do research and market analyses and how to conduct business in general. It is hoping to attract the attention of students who are interested in manufacturing and welding, but also the students who are leaning towards business and marketing.
Over forty percent of the workforce comes from outside of the county. Its labor market is over two hundred and thirteen thousand because of its proximity to Lincoln. Its businesses have proven that good work positions will recruit people from surrounding areas. The housing market can sometimes be a barrier; currently, there is not enough housing available for all employees to live in York County.
York County’s location in Nebraska is an asset. It is on Interstate 80, the top freight corridor in the United States. It also intersects Highway 81, a four-lane highway that extends to the Gulf of Mexico. This gives the county excellent logistical access; it can reach over ninety percent of the nation in a legal two-day truck drive.
Years ago, the visitor’s bureau labeled York as the crossroads of the Midwest due to its location. “It seems common sense for us to be targeting transportation and logistics type of businesses, which was identified to us years ago by every single expert that we talked to. It’s a very unique situation to be in,” says Tony North.