Heartland Center for Leadership Development


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From the Keeping it Rural Conference, held by the BC Rural Centre, October 7-8, 2019.

Provided by the Heartland Center for Leadership Development, Lincoln, Nebraska, 2019.


Copyright 2019, Heartland Center for Leadership Development. Used by permission.


Leadership, entrepreneurship, wealth retention and youth development are all pieces of the recent successes of Onaga, Kansas, a very rural community of 704 people. Driving down Kansas Highway 16 and seeing the sign “Onaga, next five exits” would make you think it’s a large town. Indeed, it isn’t. But it’s the brainstorm of community developers who propose that adding such a series of signs would encourage more travelers to stop in.

“Onaga has a lot of assets that other communities would die for!” That is the sentiment of the part-time community development specialist for Onaga. This kind of sentiment is reflected in the philosophy of HomeTown Competitiveness (HTC), a collaboration between three partnering organizations in Nebraska, including the Heartland Center for Leadership Development. This philosophy is embedded in four “pillars” of youth, entrepreneurship, leadership and community philanthropy. County-wide, the HTC initiative has taken root in each of the pillar areas. In fact, a foundation has been established that has raised over $1 million dollars in only 20 months, with 13 affiliated local funds.

After many attended an HTC Academy, a group of Onaga citizens banded together to establish goals in eight categories including transportation, communications, quality of life, business and industry, agriculture, housing, population/school enrollment and tourism.