Published On: Wed, Mar 16th, 2011

Population exodus hits Hartington hard

HARTINGTON — Hartington experienced some tough times during the first decade of the new century.
One of the town’s largest industries closed its doors, another local industry here was forced to lay employees off.  Then came the national economic meltdown of 2008-09. Those moves and the continuing trend toward larger, but fewer family farms have all led to a population decline here in the past decade.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that Hartington saw a five percent population decline between the 2000 and 2010 Census, while the county took an eight percent drop in population.
In 2000, Hartington had 1,640 residents. That number fell to 1,554 in the latest official Census count, released in February.
Hartington has not had that low of a population since the 1920 Census when the community boasted just 1,467 residents.
Hartington isn’t alone – almost every town in Cedar County showed a decline in population.
Despite the dip in Hartington’s population, community leaders are working hard to make sure the decline does not continue.
Hartington Economic Development has focused on programs designed to help current businesses grow and expand, as well as working to attract new business into the community.
Resources have been put in place that will ultimately help attract individuals and families to the community, according to Hartington Economic Director Carla Becker.
Hartington was designated as a “Certified Community” in May of 2010 through the Neb. Dept. of Economic Development, which has enabled the city to apply for the Downtown Revitalization CDBG grant.
A committee has been developed and Town Hall meetings will be held to determine detailed plans that will involve paving, water, sewer, possible new lighting and beautification aspects along with historic preservation and enhancements.
“With an improved business district comes the potential of new businesses. It also encourages current business owners to look at their  current marketing strategies and to consider new ideas in attracting customers to town. A new downtown look brings curiosity with shoppers wanting to buy locally,” said Becker. “Many community leaders and volunteers are stepping forward to be part of the planning of our community as we continue to focus on making Hartington a great place to call home.”
Work is also being done with other communities in the area on a website called “We Have It All in Cedar County” that promotes the county and region.
Two DVD’s that were recently developed promote Hartington and the area: a 15 minute and a 5-minute recruitment DVD can be found and played on the community website and Facebook pages.
“These videos show the quality of life that we offer in Hartington and the area and we hope they will attract new families and businesses to our community,” Becker said.
The Hartington Economic Corporation continues to strive to keep Hartington on the forefront on retaining and expanding its population base according to President Chris Miller.
Work is being done to fill the vacant processing plant with a new business that would employee 30- 60 employees.
Aggressive marketing of industrial lots continues in an effort to help with expanding local businesses and bringing in new businesses.
Efforts are being implemented to provide low priced, attractive housing options through such groups as NEHI and NENEC who help with housing rehab and down payment assists.
“Even though the Census numbers are disappointing, these numbers are even more encouraging to our group to push forward even harder to make the community and region a success,” Miller said.
Hartington has had a number of new improvements in the last few years that will continue to draw businesses and families to town: the Community Complex, Monsignor Werner Activity Center, remodeling project at Hartington Public School and enhancements at the park along with the Courthouse renovation and new annex.
Dan Kathol, a member of the Economic Board, is confident that Hartington can draw both businesses and people to town.
“Despite a five percent decline in population and an eight percent decline in the county population, Hartington has been able to hold on to both a parochial and public school system which is a real positive for the Hartington area,” Kathol said. “It is still our greatest asset and something we can be proud of and not take for granted.”
According to Kathol over forty new homes have been built in Hartington and two new housing developments are currently being developed.
Westfield Acres, which is just east of the Community Complex, along with the Nordby Addition that will be located north of Hwy 84 on the eastern edge of Hartington will offer more building and housing alternatives.
Another option that may be pursued is Senior Townhouses for seniors who want independent housing but who are not ready to take advantage of Assisted Living.