This Week's Editorial
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

 
‘Get ’R Done’ PDF E-mail

Ask area employers what they rely on most to get the job done and you’ll almost always get the same answer -- quality employees.

Ultimately, the bottom line relies on customers, of course, but without the dedicated men and women who show up every day to make the product and provide the service, or both, no business or organization could stay afloat.

Whether the field is ag related, which many are in Hamilton County, or linked to education, retail, health care, small business or a larger industrial operation, employers agree that a quality workforce is vital to both short- and long-term success.

Finding and keeping quality employees is a big part of the challenge these days in an era when changing jobs is more the norm than it was 30 years ago. On that note, we’ve noticed that many area employees have been with the same company or organization for 20, 30 or even 40 years or more, which says a great deal about both the individual and their employer. We’ve been told over and over again how valuable those long-time staff members are when it comes to maintaining relationships with the customers, providing stability, as well as trained expertise.

Bringing fresh faces to the fold is also an important part of the employment puzzle, though that’s a challenge as well these days with a statewide unemployment rate of 4.2 percent. More and more companies are “growing their own” talent, hoping to provide opportunity. In today’s world, having a healthy mix of both experienced employees and fresh faces is good business, no matter what the business.

In this week’s special section, the News-Register tips its hat to the local workforce. Our hope was to shine the spotlight on employees from several area businesses, and also share the perspective of employers who count on their hard work and dedication.

It’s interesting each year to look over the pictures and see who is working where, and how long they’ve been there. It’s a good read, and also a very fitting tribute to the folks who “Get ’R Done.”

Kurt Johnson

 
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