WAVERLY — By most measures, the five miles between Waverly and Lincoln’s city limits is thought to be an advantage, and it’s a clear contributor to Waverly’s growth of more than 1,000 residents in the past decade. Newcomers like Waverly’s small-town atmosphere just a short drive from city amenities.
But the city’s location can also be thanked for what many locals see as a shortage of restaurants and businesses, says Waverly City Council Member Abbey Pascoe. Why should a business set up shop in Waverly when commercial land is scarce and the clientele would likely be smaller than in Lincoln?
“Citizens say that we’re behind,” she said. “That we don’t have the restaurants, we don’t have the grocery store that is big enough to fit everybody’s needs so that they don’t have to go to Lincoln.”
Pascoe said people have also expressed interest in bringing an eye doctor to town, and she said senior citizens tell her they want to be able to buy the things they need without driving to Lincoln.
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Such challenges have been on the council’s radar long before Pascoe was appointed in 2020, but the council has moved forward this year with a more deliberate effort to identify and fill the needs of the city’s growing populace.
Chief among the city’s initiatives is a new economic development advisory committee that Pascoe has pieced together over the past few months. It will call its first meeting in January, and the first agenda item will be to map out a strategic plan, which will include information about available land and which businesses or services the committee should target.
“A strategic plan is imperative to ensure we are thoughtfully promoting growth in the areas needed; neighborhood businesses, restaurants, et cetera,” Pascoe said.
Members on the board will include Smart Chicken President Bill Schellpeper, Horizon Bank President Greg Dunlap, Watts Electric Vice President Dave Watts, Amberly Dental owner Tim Vacek, First State Bank Waverly Branch Manager Cody Mosel, Patina Joe Boutique and Coffee owner Natasha Hoyer and Waverly Farm Bureau branch owner Rusty Wellman
“I reached out to prominent business owners who I think could help us build what we’re looking for and maybe have the connections and the weight behind them to ask a certain business or restaurant to come to town,” Pascoe said.
The committee will work “hand in hand” with the Waverly Planning Commission, Pascoe said, with the planning commission handling infrastructure and housing concerns and the economic development committee focusing on commercial needs. The planning commission and city council are currently working with Lincoln-based firm Hanna Keelan to update the city’s comprehensive plan.
In 2015, the City of Ashland formed a similar committee — the Ashland Area Economic Development Corporation, a 501©(3) nonprofit. They later employed a full-time economic development director, Caleb Fjone, whose job is to attract commercial projects and businesses to Ashland. The city’s economic growth has thrived in recent years, and Fjone was instrumental in establishing downtown Ashland as Nebraska’s first creative district, which makes the city eligible for future grant funding.
Pascoe tabbed Fjone for insight as she formed Waverly’s committee, and she said she envisions Waverly eventually employing a full-time economic development director.
“We don’t have anybody like that today,” she said. “We need somebody that can spend their entire job doing economic development.”
If an economic development director is hired, Pascoe said they would likely act as a liaison between the advisory committee and prospective businesses, similarly to how Fjone operates. She said Ashland’s economic development committee communicates with Fjone regarding the needs outlined in the committee’s strategic plan, and Fjone seeks the land and developers necessary to bring a new business to town.
In other city news, City Administrator Stephanie Fisher announced at the Nov. 8 Waverly City Council meeting that the Waverly Fire and Rescue station will host an open house on Nov. 21 to provide information about a proposed new municipal building that would house Waverly’s city offices and the Waverly Fire & Rescue department. The building is planned to be built on a lot at the intersection of 135th Street and Amberly Road. The open house will take place from 6 to 7 p.m.