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Ogallala Commons Community Development forms steering committee

DENVER—The Ogallala Commons Project (OCP), an economic and community development initiative, has announced formation of a steering committee to provide the leadership necessary to move forward the group’s plan. The OCP was formed a year ago by a group of organizations and individuals concerned with the continuing economic and social decline in the rural Great Plains and met again last month in Burlington, Colo.

Colorado steering committee members include Mike Eisenbart, Stratton; Vince Shively, Denver; Bob Mailander, Aurora; and Tom Potter, Denver. From New Mexico are Shannon Horst, Albuquerque; and Lynnwood Brown, Santa Fe. Also included on the OCP steering committee are representatives from Wyoming, Nebraska, Texas, South Dakota, Oklahoma and Kansas.

The goal of the OCP is to foster a self-sustaining, holistic approach to community socio-economic development in the Great Plains region that overlies the Ogallala Aquifer.

“Stagnate commodity prices, declining rural populations, and a concentration of health, technology and other services in urban areas over the past 20 years have caused rural communities to fall behind economically,” said Rocky Mountain Farmers Union Cooperative Development Center Director Robert Mailander. “Many of these rural people would like to remain in the communities where they live, but they see little opportunity for their families.”

Mailander, whose organization envisioned the need for the OCP, believes the OCP can provide ideas and resources for communities that wish to develop sustainable industries of a variety of types. The RMFU Cooperative Development Center provides funding to the OCP through a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant for rural development.

“Plains communities have for generations and generations sustained themselves from the agricultural production made possible by irrigation water of the Ogallala Aquifer, which scientists tell us is drying up,” Mailander said. “The OCP’s goal is to give rural citizens options beyond selling their water rights to cities and moving there themselves.”

Mailander and the others on the steering committee would like to see the OCP develop into a resource center, where rural communities and groups of individuals can find support for new businesses based on economic development expertise, funding, feasibility counseling and other types of support for grassroots economic development. The OCP would encourage a wide variety of projects. Examples presented at the conference included alternative energy generation, food production for value-added markets and preservation of historic sites that can provide tourism income.

“The success of the OCP as an incubator for community development is particularly important at this time as Western plains states suffer from prolonged drought,” said Mailander. “An estimated 20-30 percent of agricultural producers in Colorado are expected to face serious economic challenges and many may be forced out of business this coming year. Without some type of alternative, they will have no choice but to leave rural communities and seek employment in our already overcrowded cities.”