(p. B1) SIDNEY, Neb. — The forest green roof and pair of bronze stags frozen in combat are impossible to miss as you drive down Interstate 80.
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For 54 years, Cabela’s made its home here, a juggernaut that kept the town humming. But in 2017, the sporting goods store sold for $5 billion to Bass Pro Shops — a takeover that eventually made 2,000 jobs vanish in a town of roughly 6,600 residents.
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But Sidney’s staying power still surprises experts, who say it’s driven by two factors.
One: Former Cabela’s employees opening their small businesses, diversifying the economy in a formerly one-company town.
Two: A recent influx of new (p. B3) residents, both retirees and remote workers.
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Each spring, high schoolers from Nebraska and neighboring states flock to Sidney searching for the perfect prom dress. Their destination: Charlotte & Emerson, a downtown boutique — and one example of Sidney’s rebirth from the ashes of Cabela’s.
Co-owner Sarah Kaiser and husband Kurt Kaiser both worked at Cabela’s. When the company was swallowed by Missouri-based Bass Pro, the family relocated there as Sarah Kaiser ran the combined company’s human resources.
But in 2020, they decided to return to Sidney, her hometown. Sarah Kaiser opened Charlotte & Emerson with her sister. Her husband launched an online fitness store, Frost Giant Fitness. They’re two of many Sidney-based companies run by ex-Cabela’s employees who decided to stick around and start something new.
“The corporate experience of these young folks really was key to this particular recovery,” said David Iaquinta, a Nebraska Wesleyan University sociology professor who has researched Sidney’s economic development. “. . . they combined that talent with a strong desire for the lifestyle that they had. They said, ‘We’re here. We’re rooted here.’”
Budding companies are being boosted by E3, a Nebraska Community Foundation program meant to aid entrepreneurship in rural Nebraska.
Already, new businesses have remodeled once-dilapidated buildings, said Sarah Sinnett, the program’s community lead.
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Economic development in Nebraska “used to be about cheap land, cheap labor and cheap incentives” to nab big companies, Stinnett said.
Now: “If you want small towns to start thriving … really it needs to be focused on entrepreneurship,” she said.
For the full story, see:
Natalia Alamdari, Flatwater Free Press. “Sydney Shows Staying Power.” Omaha World-Herald (Sunday, April 23, 2023): B1 & B3.
(Note: ellipses between paragraphs, and bracketed date, added; ellipsis internal to paragraph, in original.)
(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 28, 2023, and has the title “Six years after ‘Cabela’s debacle,’ Sidney’s lights are still on.”)