Why much of Nebraska’s economy remains strong despite the pandemic
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The state of Nebraska has one of the lowest jobless rates in the country. At 3.1%, the proportion of people unemployed in Nebraska is less than half of the national average.
Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal talked with Patrick Gerhart, president of the Bank of Newman Grove, to see how his town’s economy has been doing through the pandemic. Around 700 people live in Newman Grove, many of whom have been coming to the bank for generations. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Kai Ryssdal: Let me start the way I always do when I speak with small-business people in this economy: How is business these past couple of months?
Patrick Gerhart: Business in our area, which is rural northeastern Nebraska, to be honest, has actually been fairly well, due to the farm economy. [An] uptick in grain prices, the government help last year, has really kind of stabilized a lot of uncertainty that was going on in 2020 in this area. We just need kind of an uptick in cattle prices, and I think everybody might be a little bit happy. So I mean, as a whole, we’re doing OK.
Ryssdal: Which is good news to hear because you don’t hear a lot of that in this economy lately. I wonder, how do you suppose Newman Grove and the surrounding area has been able to do that? Is it just the fact that you’re ag-based, and ag is doing well?
Gerhart: Part of it is ag-based, of course. But you know, that can kind of come and go. Another thing is that we are far enough away from major metropolitan areas where, you know, when the shutdowns and the downturns happened at the beginning of COVID, we, of course, complied, but we were not nearly as hit as, you know, some of those major areas. One of the benefits of being kind of a rural economy, it’s almost kind of trickle-down in a way. Like when we get hit, we’re almost kind of prepared for it, if that makes sense.
Ryssdal: No, it totally does. Did you have in March and April, when the first CARES Act came, did you have farmers and clients and customers coming to you asking for [Paycheck Protection Program] loans? Did you wind up doing a lot of that work?
Gerhart: Yes, right away. We didn’t do a whole lot. We mainly stuck to our customers and went with the people that we know, and we know their credit history, we know their background. We kind of kept it internal. We didn’t go out seeking PPP loans, like some institutions did. That’s kind of [where] our comfort level was.
Ryssdal: All right, this I should know the answer to, having done research, but I don’t. Where physically in Newman Grove are you? Are you like smack in the middle of town, as it were?
Gerhart: Yeah. No, our bank is right on Main Street. It’s about four blocks long. And yeah, we’re on kind of the western end of it.
Ryssdal: All right, so when you go out the front door of the bank and look right and left, what does it look like? Are there small businesses open and thriving? Are things closed? What’s the deal?
Gerhart: You know, surprisingly, we haven’t lost anybody. In fact, we’ve actually had a little boutique pop up in the middle of this whole thing. She was planning on doing it from the get-go before COVID happened, and she’s open. I think she’s done fairly well. So I mean, we haven’t lost anybody. Everybody, I think, is doing OK. In fact, I think a couple of our businesses have actually seen a little bit of a boom in regards to it, just based on the fact that people aren’t leaving Newman Grove to go get things as much as they once were before COVID. They’re buying more, at least it seems like, in our area, and you know, everybody’s doing OK for the most part.
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