By Jim Misunas
LARNED — Larned’s new Chamber director is interested in youth and young adult engagement, housing and seeing a restaurant develop a successful following in town.
Lauren Long, a past research Vista for ReEngage Omaha (Neb.) has been hired by the Larned chamber board. She will also serve as Pawnee County Economic Development director. She will start her full-time position Aug. 20. She replaces Courtland Holman, who left for a position in Dayton, Texas.
One of her personal goals is assisting local youth to engage with businesses in the city and county.
“I would like to see youth engagement and internships so they can find out what goes on behind the scenes,” she said. “It’s important to develop partnerships in the community.”
She is interested in learning what keeps young adults in the community and what it takes to entice local college graduates to return to Pawnee County.
“Anything you can do to bring young adults and young professionals to town is beneficial,” she said. “I’m really interested in the housing aspect too.”
Long is finishing an assignment in Valentine, Neb. She has developed a leadership program for the Sandhills Resource Conversation and Development that addresses the professional needs for Arthur, Grant, Hooker, Keith, Lincoln, Logan, McPherson and Thomas counties.
She grew up in the small town of Springfield, Neb., and enjoys the fellowship in a smaller-sized city.
“I grew up in a small town in the country and I’ve always loved it,” she said. “Small towns are close knit because the people depend on one another. My history has showed it’s easier to start a business or project because it starts on a small scale.”
Long said her general impression about Larned was Main Street’s businesses were diversified and roadway traffic appeared good. She didn’t see a local restaurant that would serve as a downtown hub. Valentine features several locally-owned full-service restaurants.
“The store fronts are attracting traffic, but I would love to see a steakhouse or a restaurant that would serve as a cornerstone and a meeting place for downtown,” she said.
Long said she first interviewed via Skype, then visited Larned in person.
“It was pretty informal,” she said. “I was able to tour the communities in Pawnee and we talked about the assets and issues in the area.”
Long said she was welcomed by the search committee.
“All the people I talked to were great people,” she said. “I enjoyed talking to all of them and was really impressed with our conversations. They’ve welcomed me and have been extremely helpful. I’m thankful for the opportunity.”
Her job with Re-Engage Omaha aimed to alleviate poverty by targeting at-risk youth, ex-offender, and young veteran populations, as well as factors that directly influence those populations, such as education, homelessness and public health.
Her experience in Omaha taught her that are far fewer obstacles to get jobs accomplished in a smaller town.
“I learned that working in a larger city can provide a huge challenge,” she said. “The nice thing about a small town is many of the people you see and work with are your friends and neighbors. Those local people are engaged and involved in their community. I will enjoy the grassroots and neighborhood approach.”
Long, 23, graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a degree in psychology in 2012.