March  2006      Vol. 15, No. 3  REAP HOME PAGE  A publication of the Center for Rural Affairs    
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HomeTown Competitiveness (HTC)
A Come-Back/Give-Back Approach to Rural Communities


Maybe you’ve heard of HTC / HomeTown Competitiveness in your corner of the world. Several rural Nebraska communities have been involved recently in this comprehensive strategy to help keep their rural community alive and thriving!

HTC provides an approach which goes beyond the traditional vision of economic development by presenting a come back/give back approach to rural community building. Combining decades of experience in rural development, four Nebraska-based organizations, including the Heartland Center for Leadership Development, the Nebraska Community Foundation, the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship and the Center for Rural Affairs, and several other organizational partners, are focusing on four strategies that are essential and workable in most rural communities, yet are usually underdeveloped.

HomeTown Competitiveness encourages communities to take immediate action in four strategic areas:

  1. Mobilize Local Leaders
  2. Capture Wealth Transfer
  3. Energize Entrepreneurship
  4. Attract Young People

Together, these strategies create a synergy that can significantly impact the future prospects of rural areas experiencing out-migration and economic decline. HTC calls for rural communities to invest in local human resources and to build and retain local wealth.

HTC is drawing significant attention in Nebraska and nationally because rural leaders and practitioners recognize that even the most distressed community has, to some degree, each of the necessary elements to launch an HTC approach. What differentiates HTC from many other development efforts is that it focuses primarily on internal resources and assets. The goal is to assess where a community is, here and now, and to build on the current capacity of each of the four elements.

When a community engages in the HTC process, a steering committee of willing volunteers is established who will direct and organize the action plans for the community around the four strategic areas, also known as pillars. Community task forces are formed to employ efforts to implement strategies to meet goals established for each pillar area.

The Center for Rural Affairs actively supports HTC. The Center’s mission is about working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action-oriented programs. HTC is designed to be action oriented and embraces the involvement of many in communities that have joined this effort. REAP especially has core business development services to offer those who are entrepreneurial energized!

We believe that the HTC approach offers hope for communities being swept away by change: change that has caused severe out-migration, growing levels of poverty, and the flight of youth. By targeting leadership and community capacity building with focused entrepreneurship efforts and encouraging local philanthropy to support ongoing economic and community capacity building, communities can build for themselves a successful and healthy future.

The Four HTC Pillars

For small towns to compete in the 21st century they must tap into everyone’s potential knowledge, talent, and aspirations. The Heartland Center for Leadership Development rejects the outdated notion of relying on “the usual suspects” to get things done. Rural communities must be intentional about recruiting and nurturing an increasing number of women, minorities, and young people into decision-making roles. They need continuing leadership training programs, because today’s leadership must constantly reinvent itself to reflect the challenges of a changing global environment.

The Nebraska Community Foundation has completed wealth transfer analysis for each of Nebraska’s 93 counties. Rural residents do not always recognize local wealth because so much of it is held through land ownership. Most people are at first shocked, and then highly motivated, once they understand the enormous amount of local wealth that will likely transfer to heirs who have migrated out of the area.

In rural Nebraska alone, more than $94 billion is at stake over the next few decades. Both the power and the will to use these assets will no longer be tied to the community unless planned gifts are cultivated now. Using this data, HTC sets a reasonable target of converting at least 5 percent of the local wealth transfer into charitable assets endowed in community foundations to fund future community and economic development efforts.

Far too many rural communities continue to invest resources in economic development for job creation and business development that exports, rather than builds, local wealth. The Center for Rural Entrepreneurship and its partners such as REAP, encourage communities to become actively involved in nurturing local enterprise in three specific areas: (1) saving Main Street and other key businesses through planned ownership succession, (2) creating new wealth and good jobs by helping entrepreneurial companies that have the potential to break-through to a broader product line and/or a larger market, and (3) using local charitable assets to support entrepreneurship development.

It is not just the call of the city that impels them; it is also the lack of opportunity and encouragement to “come back” that drives young people away from their hometowns. HTC has developed a formula that small towns can use in their efforts to halt this trend. Using existing data on population change, the formula provides small towns with realistic goals for youth attraction.

In some cases, the attraction of one additional high school student per year, who returns with a young family, can stabilize the population. HTC teaches people how to target youths for attraction, create career opportunities through business transfer and entrepreneurial support, and nurture a sense of ownership and vested interest in the community’s future leaders.

You can find more about HTC on its website: . Glennis McClure and Chuck Hassebrook, CFRA, are on the HTC management team.

Contact: Glennis McClure, REAP Co-Director at or 402.645.3296.
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