For more than three years, Gage Area Growth Enterprise (NGage) has worked to enhance current businesses and draw new groups to the county.

The economic development group strives to help businesses stake their claim, and has several projects in the works.

One recent project NGage officials anticipate will be a significant asset to the area is an ongoing housing study to determine the area’s needs.

Glennis McClure, executive director of NGage, said the housing study was prompted by concerns from businesses regarding housing availability.

“As far as the businesses and industries around here, we discovered that one of the issues with people not ending up living here was because of some of the housing needs we have,” she said. “From that, it’s been a number of years since a housing study has been done in Beatrice and Gage County we embraced that idea to do a housing study. That is currently underway.”

The Gage County Communities Housing Study comes at a total cost of $30,000, half of which is being provided by the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority (NIFA). The study consists of various surveys being administered by Hanna:Keelan Associates.

The study includes examination of population, income and economic data, a housing stock analysis, strategies for affordable housing development and a five-year housing action plan.

It will also include funding options for future owner and rental housing development and housing rehabilitation projects in each community throughout the county, and hopes to gather input from a wide range of participants.

“The survey is for a broad range of folks,” McClure said. “We want young, old and everybody in between. Particularly, workforce housing to identify what their needs are. Hopefully from that we’ll have a pretty good idea. Once you have that data and information, hopefully we can find the investors and developers to help improve our housing stock, whether it’s rehab programs or building new.”

The housing study is scheduled for completion in March 2016.

McClure anticipates the study will allow NGage and other groups to look at programs to assist with the housing needs identified through the surveys.

“If you’re writing grants for housing projects, having data from a study is very important,” she said. “Part of the contract is they are also going to help find, they know of development groups that can come in if there’s a need to help connect us with those resources.”

While economic development is often associated with bringing new businesses to an area, McClure pointed out that assisting existing businesses is also important.

“Our existing businesses are really key to what’s going on here,” she said. “We can’t forget to pay attention to their needs. One need for a lot of them is to have the general public understand that there’s some good opportunities here. By helping promote what’s already here is really important. Industry retention is a key part of economic development.”

NGage participated in the “Stake Your Claim” branding effort adopted by the city, and hopes the campaign will benefit the area. McClure said the slogan’s tie to the Homestead National Monument of America west of Beatrice closely relates to NGage’s economic development efforts.

“The homesteaders were very entrepreneurial,” McClure said. “They were here to stake their claim and I think if we can tie that whole sentiment back to economic development, starting with the small businesses that can start and grow here.”

McClure added that through programs, available assistance funds and workshops, making Gage County an entrepreneurial community is a key priority she hopes to accomplish moving forward.

“I would really like to have this be a great entrepreneurial community,” she said. “That’s kind of a goal or a vision is are we reaching out and encouraging people to start and grow businesses here.”

The City Council and County Board began discussing a joint economic development venture in early 2011. The NGage Board of Directors was announced that November. The finalized agreement calls for each governmental body to contribute up to $100,000 annually for the economic development group.

Myron Dorn, chairman of the Gage County Board of Supervisors, was involved in the initial discussions with the city of Beatrice that led to the inception of NGage. Dorn said NGage filled the void left from the disbanding of the former economic development group, Gage County Economic Development, around five years ago.

During the time no economic development group was in place, Dorn said Gage County wasn’t getting inquiries from state groups helping to pair businesses with locations.

“We need somebody that a company can contact that can go out and help recruit companies and we just need an organization to work on our economic development in the county,” he said. “If you don’t, you find out in a hurry these other communities that have active ones, you fall farther behind them. Since we got Glennis on board I feel really good about the direction it’s going.

“We’re more involved in the state. They’re now not afraid to contact Glennis and NGage to let them know about contacts. We weren’t getting those three or four years ago. We weren’t even getting contacts from the state if somebody was looking around. There wasn’t anybody down here to pursue it or help them.”

Beatrice Mayor Stan Wirth said he expects big things from NGage during the group’s current three-year contract.

“The next three years are going to be crucial in what accomplishments are made,” Wirth said. “Those accomplishments I think we need to look at realistically, but also like to kick into high gear. A lot of the behind the scenes work has been done. We have all of the matrix put into place. I think it’s time now for us to kick it up a notch and recruit as hard as we can.”

Early conversations between city and county officials when the two governmental bodies were forming NGage concerned to how determine an economic development group’s success. Dorn said several factors come into play when determining the success of a group working in economic development.

“One way they always tell you is look at employment numbers,” he said. “You can look at businesses that have come in or left, but some of those things about the success of an economic development group you just can’t measure. When I started contacting people when we were putting group together you visited with these other towns and found out a community like Beatrice was, at best, standing still.

“You have to promote yourself and be active out there in the business world to promote what you have to sell your community or county.”

Reach Scott Koperski at scott.koperski@beatricedailysun.com. Follow him on Twitter @ScottKoperski.