This Week's Editorial
A place to grow PDF E-mail

The ground may be nearly frozen, but you can almost feel something special starting to grow just beneath the surface on Aurora’s eastern edge.
The Aurora Cooperative and The Leadership Center are both dynamic entities in their own right. They have always had similar ag-based missions to serve the next generation; one offering training to FFA students, and the other, products and services to its farmer-owners.
As of this week, the two entities now share a home base as well.
In what has been fittingly described as a win-win partnership, The Leadership Center offered a 99-year lease to the 106-year-old cooperative, which debuts its new $8 million corporate offices this week. It’s an impressive structure, built with an eye toward the future, yet anchored in a simple, rural design that befits its Hamilton County setting.
The News-Register devoted an entire 12-page special edition to this project because it represents a milestone moment in time. Fifty years from now, the next generation will look back and remember when the partnership blossomed, and we wanted to document the moment appropriately.
Two of our community’s bright and shining stars have aligned, and our guess is we’ve only just begun to get a glimpse of how their relationship will benefit each other, the host community, and more importantly, the next generation of agricultural leadership.
More than 50,000 people ventured through The Leadership Center last year, all of whom will now get a glimpse of a billion-dollar corporation. Conversely, the cooperative staff invites guests, vendors and farmer-owners on site throughout the year, folks who will now be introduced to The Leadership Center. Such exposure can’t help but boost TLC’s traffic, as well as its bottom line.
Talks have already begun to create a curriculum combining the two resources with what could end up as short-courses, seminars, enhanced internships or who knows what. That kind of collaborative thinking indicates this is far more than a real-estate deal; it’s a partnership in every sense of the word.
The new corporate offices are not just another building, and this is not just a casual, joint-venture agreement. This is a very big deal, in our view, reflecting a synergy not often found in a small Midwestern town.
Congratulations to both.
Kurt Johnson

Hometown Husker PDF E-mail

Andrew Rodriguez walked off the Memorial Stadium turf for the final time Friday, winding down a solid college football career that has given local fans an even bigger reason to follow our beloved Big Red.

Tuning in on any given Saturday, Husker Nation has watched No. 63 on the front lines of a meat-and-potatoes league in which success is often decided by who wins the battle in the trenches. This year, in particular, Rodriguez, better known to his friends and coaches as A-Rod, has been consistently impressive in that regard.

He has played with passion. He has played with purpose. He has shown bursts of speed, power and agility that could even earn him a chance to play on Sunday if the chips fall just right. And this season he’s been a vocal team leader on occasion, speaking up as a senior should.

Injuries to his teammates on the offensive line also forced A-Rod to be flexible, shifting from guard to tackle and back, sometimes within the same game. That’s a difficult assignment, especially at the Division I level. In that sense, he became an anchor on a makeshift line by season’s end, a guy teammates and coaches knew they could count on.

Through it all, Rodriguez has remained humble, preferring not to do in-depth interviews or talk about his own personal performance. He’s a team guy, and also a young man who appreciates the success he’s had but remains grounded in his roots.

Ever since a young boy from New York City took a giant leap of faith and moved to what must have seemed like a whole different world here in the Heartland, Rodriguez has fit in well. His brother and extended family deserve tremendous credit for giving him such a positive option.

As for his football talents, Aurora coaches recognized A-Rod’s unique ability very early on, in addition to his obvious size. He and his Husky teammates gave Big Red fans reason to cheer with back to back state championships, and for the last four year’s he’s added a local angle to Husker Nation’s conversation as well.

That’s a very big deal in a place where college football is a proud part of our culture. Win or lose, we cheer for the Huskers. And win or lose, it’s been fun to focus on Big No. 63.

Here’s a shout out and a verbal high five to a young man who has represented himself, his family and his community very well, both on the gridiron and in the game of life.

Kurt Johnson

Think big, shop small PDF E-mail

In the midst of America’s holiday shopping season a new promotion is gaining steam which makes both dollars and sense, especially for rural communities.

Shop small!

It’s a pretty simple concept, with huge implications.
Smack dab in the middle of the annual Christmas kickoff weekend -- after Black Friday and before Cyber Monday -- Aurora merchants are launching their own version of a Small Business Saturday campaign. The concept was first introduced nationally in 2010 and is gaining momentum across the country each year.

The premise is simple and the impact profound. Money spent in your hometown stays local, rolling through the economy between five and seven times. That’s a priceless ripple effect that makes your buying decision far more valuable than the original purchase of goods or services.

There are some tremendous values on display in local stores, with a wide variety of merchandise available and, in particular, customer service you won’t find at the big box chains 20 miles away. There are times when you cannot buy certain things locally, which is understood. That dollar, unfortunately, is lost to our community.

But there are many, many times when more of us should pause before getting in the car or logging on to the Internet to go shopping. We could and should at the very least look to see what’s available locally. Our individual buying decisions do make a difference.

The message Small Business Saturday is echoing across America is that your hometown merchants offer something that simply isn’t available on the Internet or in big box chain stores. When you shop local you get a direct payback in the form of community quality of life which makes us all proud to call Aurora home.

Think about it. Do national department stores or .com companies donate food, money or time to Aurora projects and fundraisers? Do those companies pay taxes which support our school, city and county? Is our society so committed to rock-bottom pricing that we no longer see the big picture and total value of our hometown merchants?

Small businesses are the heartbeat of our community. They are the locally-owned ventures whose very presence makes a neighborhood, your neighborhood. This holiday season, think big, shop small.

Kurt Johnson

Legacy lives on PDF E-mail

Thirteen years later, the legacy of one of Aurora’s most famous native sons lives on.

When Harold “Doc” Edgerton died in 1990, his family and a group of visionary local leaders decided that his hometown should do something special to carry on his love for hands-on learning. Aurora residents know the story well, but there is a new and exciting chapter unfolding now in the center’s unique history, one that would make Doc very, very proud.

The Edgerton Explorit Center will celebrate Doc’s legacy Friday with a special event featuring the famed inventor/scientist/teacher’s son, Bob. The annual fundraiser is always a fun event, but this year there is more reason than ever to celebrate what’s happening at Nebraska’s only hands-on science center.

There is a vibrant energy flowing through the Highway 14 venue these days, and not just from the new plasma screen exhibit. That’s one of many, many new attractions “kids” of all ages can touch with their own hands, thinking they are just playing when in fact they are learning some basic principles of science.

Touch. Explore. Learn. Get excited about science. That was Doc’s vision, his claim to fame, and his life’s calling.

The surge of energy and success at the Explorit Center is especially worth noting at a time when many Nebraska attractions are struggling to make ends meet, especially those in rural settings. It’s a constant challenge to keep exhibits fresh, new and exciting, giving people a reason to come not just once, but again and again and again.

First-year executive director Mary Molliconi and her staff understand that challenge, in fact they have embraced it with vigor. There is always a new display, a new exhibit or a new imaginary project of some kind in the works, which is evident each time you walk in the door.

The end result is a center with lots to see and do, which is attracting visiting school groups as well as individual guests by record numbers. Within the last 12 months, visits both at the center and on the road by the Edgerton On the Move program have increased four-fold, from approximately 24,000 to 100,000. That’s due in part to $70,000 worth of new exhibits, which were funded by additional grants and donations.

Wow! Those numbers are phenomenal, and shed a very positive light on Aurora as a host community.

If you haven’t been to the center lately, do yourself, and your family, a favor and go spend some time exploring a true Nebraska gem.

Kurt Johnson

Hearing sheds light on need for universal service funding PDF E-mail

Rural America needs and deserves access to high-speed Internet services.
On that point you’ll get no argument here in Nebraska, a case made loudly and clearly last week in Aurora during one of three public hearings conducted by the Nebraska Legislature’s Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. It’s expensive to extend fiber optics to rural customers, which is why a combination of state and federal universal service funding has become so critical.
Dist. 34 Sen. Annette Dubas, who chairs the committee, got a lot of people’s attention by calling for an interim study of how the state gathers and spends its universal service (USF) dollars. That point became clear when we saw as many lobbyists on hand for the hearing in Aurora as citizens and industry representatives. The stakes are very high indeed, as the federal USF disbursed a reported $86 million to telecommunications companies in Nebraska in 2012, and a total of $4.5 billion nationwide.
Those are big dollars, but the fact is it’s expensive to install, maintain and constantly upgrade telecommunications infrastructure, especially in a rural environment. Hamilton Telecommunications here in Aurora noted, for example, that it cost between $10,000 and $20,000 per mile to install fiber optics in its “three-mile project” to rural customers.
Those rural customers represent only 4 percent of America, Dubas reported, though she is determined to make the 4 percent argument. Based on what we heard last week, it is a very, very convincing argument that needs to be heard.
Nebraska residents and businesses are doing some amazing things, based in large part on reliable broadband access. Health care providers are offering cutting-edge services, which not only makes them competitive, but helps save lives; telecommuters are working in a vast array of high-paying job sectors from the comfort of their home; entrepreneurs are creating jobs and opportunity; and ag producers are able to run high-tech precision equipment and access market information that directly affects the state’s largest industry.
The final day of testimony, however, indicates that Nebraska policy makers should not rely on continued federal USF support. Committee members were told in no uncertain terms that federal funds are receding, which is not surprising given the current state of affairs in Washington, and those funds that remain are clouded with legal and regulatory uncertainty.
The committee’s final report should motivate state lawmakers to insure that Nebraska’s universal services funding program remains a top priority and further still to consider if rural telecommunications infrastructure is worthy of additional financial resources. It’s a good investment for all concerned.
Kurt Johnson

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