After years of working with businesses and entrepreneurs, Neligh’s economic development director has decided to become one himself and plans to move to Wayne this summer.
Greg Ptacek officially made the announcement to step down as Economic Development director nearly four years to the day of his hiring — March 13.
On March 12, 2013, the Neligh City Council unanimously approved his hiring as the community’s first director, leading to four years of growth, expansion and rebranding for the community.
The Ptacek family, which includes wife Kelly and children Alexis, 3; Crispin, 2; Liesel, 3 months; plan a move to Wayne this summer as the Ptacek’s open Johnnie Byrd Brewery. Kelly Ptacek, a Neligh native and current title teacher at Neligh-Oakdale, hopes to continue her teaching career in the Wayne area.
Ptacek will continue in his capacity as economic development director through May and spend the summer focusing on his new brewery, which will be located at 117 West 2nd Street in Wayne (the old firehall).
While Ptacek admitted it’s hard to leave Neligh, he said the timing is perfect for opening a brewery and Wayne is an ideal location.
“Kelly and I spent a lot of time evaluating potential profits. Our fixed costs were the same in Wayne, but the potential market was nearly three times the size," Ptacek said. "The decision is bittersweet, but I have an opportunity to chase my dream and the community of Wayne has been very welcoming.”
Neligh Mayor Joe Hartz said he hopes the transition is win-win for both Ptacek and the community. As the first ED director for Neligh, Ptacek set the bar high with his energy and charisma.
Hartz said he wants the move to be a win for Ptacek with a successful business and a win for the community with someone who wants to raise the bar even higher.
“I’m really tickled for him and wish him the best. You know, it’s better to have someone so good in the community like him than to never have someone good at all,” Hartz said. “We’re so blessed to have had him in place when I came on board as mayor. All I had to do was rubber stamp his great work.”
He added, “My hope is that he gets to do what he wants for his family because that’s what it all comes down to. And my hope is that we gain someone even better. He set the bar pretty high, so we hope to find someone who sets that bar even higher.”
Hartz said Ptacek has been a gem for the community as he spearheaded the effort to not only become more progressive, but to attract new families and businesses.
In the last five years, Neligh had a nearly 17 percent increase in new businesses — 27 to be exact. He also helped 14 businesses transition to new owners, which Hartz said is huge for a small town.
Without that help, those 14 businesses may have closed their doors. That transition means that not only did jobs stay in Neligh, but it also means new families came to town with the ownership.
Tim Brovont and Andy Elder are two examples of transition that are key to community, Hartz said.
Brovont is in the process of purchasing Neligh Family Dentistry from Terry Jensen. The purchase will retain five employees and has already expanded to add two more. Elder is the new president of Pinnacle Bank. Hartz said Elder has already made a $20,000 pledge to the new clinic at Antelope Memorial Hospital and is making upgrades inside the bank in downtown Neligh.
“These are young families coming to Neligh, and Greg has been key in that,” Hartz said. “He’s helping to bring new young professionals to the community. These are the new leaders of Neligh, so it’s so important to have them here.”
The community — and Antelope County — has seen many economic changes in the last five years. More than $36 million has been invested in Neligh and more than $600 million in the county, according to the economic development office.
“Neligh is a fantastic community and has been quick to invest in it’s future. It’s a community that I know will continue to grow, even without me on the sidelines cheering them on," Ptacek said.
And more local investment is in the works. Ptacek said another $8 million will be invested in Neligh and $350 million in Antelope County soon. That’s nearly $1 billion in county investment in about six years.
So what are the projects that Ptacek considers his biggest wins as economic development director?
“I’ve done a lot of soul searching the past few months, trying to make this decision, when I ask myself what I’m most proud of, it’s the startup businesses," he said. "I envision the picture of Shelby Snodgrass on Seth’s shoulders right after they opened the gym. It’s helping make those dreams come true that meant the world to me. Helping open great businesses like 719 Fitness, Pitzer Digital and Peas & Carrots. I watched them and started thinking, 'What would I invest 120 percent of myself in?' The answer was always a brewery. I can’t wait to take the plunge into business ownership.”
Ptacek is leaving Neligh just after having secured a $350,000 revitalization grant for the downtown area. With business contributions, the downtown area is expected to see more than a half-million dollars in improvements.
"With Downtown Revitalization, it's a good time to pass the baton. The new hire will have two years to work on DTR and plan for what they want to accomplish in year three," he said.
Hartz said Neligh is on the right track and hopes the momentum Ptacek has helped created continues. A big part of that, he said, will be the assistant director Lauren Sheridan-Simonsen.
“With Lauren and our new economic development director, we have to have that same sharing and caring attitude,” Hartz said. “It’s really an exciting time for rural areas, so we need to keep a foot in the door and promote our community as much as we can. This is still a great time to be in Neligh.”