Nebraska Rural Prosperity helps Ord expand business

Nebraska Rural Prosperity helps Ord expand business

This is a good problem to have when your business outgrows your retail location. But it’s still a problem. Jessalyn and Dustin Crawford, owners of Hey Honey Boutique in Ord, Nebraska, recently took on this challenge.

The boutique, which sold women’s clothing, jewelry and accessories, began to feel cramped in its previous location, so the Crawfords were looking for a larger space. Like many rural entrepreneurs, they faced the second challenge: to build new or to renovate – either way a huge expense. They turned to Caleb Pollard, a business “eCoach” with the Nebraska Rural Prosperity eCommunities program, and soon set the benchmark for how collaboration between businesses benefits Nebraska communities.

“We talked about a few different options,” Jessalyn said of working with Pollard. “One of them was basically going to be torn down and then rebuilt, and to be honest, it would have been too expensive for us, so [buying this building] was more reasonable.” Working with Pollard on various financing options and opportunities, the Crawfords secured the loans they needed to purchase a dilapidated building in downtown Ord.

Pollard introduced them to paperwork for city, county and statewide loans and grants, including creating and revising business proposal plans and budget proposals for applications. One funding route was a rural development grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which helped make the building itself more energy efficient. Another was the micro-enterprise tax credit, which allows owners to repay up to $20,000 in business investment if they grow their business.

“By combining local, state and federal resources, you’re really creating these very viable platforms and programs to address key issues within rural Nebraska communities,” Pollard said.

This type of consultation and workshop with local eCoaches is the core of the eCommunities program. eCoaches not only helps individuals create businesses, but also works with Nebraska cities to create and foster an active entrepreneurial environment that helps communities identify, gather and develop resources that promote business development. By the end of the third quarter of 2023, the eCommunities program had helped 20 communities in 12 states, generating a total of approximately $2.5 million in revenue and savings.

The Crawfords saw firsthand how this one-on-one training helped them expand their business into the new building. Built in 1840, the building had been through several owners and had been vacant for years when the Crawfords bought it. “It needed a lot of love,” Jessalyn said.

In addition to their own elbow grease, the Crawfords hired local contractors to restore the building to its original glory. They tore down the drywall to reveal the original brickwork and stripped the drop ceiling to expose the original tin ceiling tiles. The front and transom windows, which had been wood for at least 70 years, were replaced by a local glazier. Area contractors installed new insulation and plumbing and even raised the sinking floor 4.5 inches.

“All local people,” Jessalyn said of the joint venture.

The boutique is now a thriving hub in the heart of Ord. The front of the building, run by Jessalyn, is a boutique with a wide variety of merchandise, while the back has been turned into a gun shop by Dustin. The two meet in a coffee bar in the middle.

“It’s kind of like a window,” Jessalyn said. “There are women who come here and they say, ‘I can bring my husband,’ or vice versa.” Men are very excited — ‘My wife can shop while I shop’ — and then they can buy coffee while they shop.”

The couple is still deciding what to do with the second floor. When they do, they’ll be able to use the restored and operational outdoor freight elevator from 1840, which they’ve decided to keep.

“We’re not just talking about one or two businesses,” Pollard said. “We’re talking about all the connections between businesses that bring combined foot traffic as well as online traffic to the community. Finally, economic development is not just about jobs. The more important element is improving the human condition, and the best way to do that is to invest in your neighbors and community members.”

Jessalyn said: “There is excitement from the community. The older generation comes to me and remembers what [the building] it looked like. I feel like we saved a small piece of Ord history.”

Preserving that history is not only preserving the past of a society; it is also about moving society forward. Pollard said the renovation project is an example of what could become Nebraska’s rural renaissance.

“I think there’s something unique about doing business here,” Pollard said, referring to rural Nebraska. “There is something in the water. There is public support. And it really makes a difference. When you talk about opportunities in rural communities, one of the things you don’t find here anywhere else is the level of commitment to supporting our own local entrepreneurs.”

Learn more about the eCommunities program.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *