HISTORICAL BACKGROUND* From Concept to Convening
The rural communities situated along the Missouri River corridor south of Council Bluffs, Iowa to north of Kansas City, Kansas have common demographics, geography and economic climate. These are small communities that are not large trade centers and are facing the trending patterns of population loss, lack of livable-wage jobs, and loss of business and industry. Local governments struggle to make the necessary investments in order to maintain a quality of life for their residents, given the declining tax base.
An inevitable result of these trends is a decline in social capital. There are fewer people available or able to volunteer. Community schools are at risk or consolidating. Social networks are diminished. There is less civic engagement and the private philanthropic base has been reduced.
Between 2005 and 2010, parts of the MINK Corridor experienced significant flooding in three of the five years. In 2011, this corridor was devastated by a sustained flood that continuously covered huge sections of the corridor for more than four months. The United States Flood Loss Report for Water Year 2011 (October 1, 2010–September 30, 2011) indicated this flood caused $85 million in direct damages in the Missouri River Basin, which includes the MINK corridor. This flood event resulted in financial, business, and personal losses from which the region is still trying to recover. The true cost of the disaster cannot be measured in dollars alone.
The inspiration for a conversation about establishing a multi-state collaborative effort to revitalize the rural communities along the Missouri River came out of a North Central Regional Center for Rural Development convening. Extension staff from Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas were present at this convening, which focused on the strengths that broad partnerships could leverage in these efforts and how resources were beginning to focus on supporting these regional, multi-state collaborations.
These Extension service professionals began to reach out to development leadership within their states to gauge what the level of interest was for developing a multi-state river corridor region. Meetings were rotated through the four states where discussion and then preliminary planning took place. The Extension services provided some facilitation and communication services that allowed the loosely formed group to evolve.
The group chose the acronym MINK (Missouri Iowa Nebraska Kansas) as its identity for the working collaboration and began meeting in 2010. Participation was encouraged through a broad-based invitation to individuals, groups, organizations, businesses, and government agencies. Through the next couple of years, MINK continued to meet in an effort to self-organize and develop its strategic objectives that would support development efforts. MINK identified its region as those mostly rural communities from south of Omaha, Nebraska, to just north of Kansas City, Missouri.
Strategic alliances with some businesses and individuals led to offers of in-kind services to support the group. However, without a legal structure in place, MINK was unable to accept these offers of assistance. It was clear that the informally organized group had to engage in a process to gain a legal status.
Formalizing Operations and Current Structure
MINK was licensed as a 501(c) (6) in 2013 in all four states. It structured itself as a membership, dues-paying organization and has since established standing committees. It was designated as a Great Region for its work in 2013.
The MINK members began concentrating on ideas to market the corridor by highlighting its assets in local foods, historical culture and attractions, and small-town businesses. Identifying emerging issues that will bring people together to help sustain communities and encourage entrepreneurship is also critical to its mission.
All efforts by committees and the board are volunteer-driven or professional members who designate part of their work load to support MINK projects. It has been successful in securing minimal funds through dues and other small fund-raising initiatives, which it has used to begin to create some technology-based infrastructure.
MINK faces challenges not uncommon to developing, grassroots organizations. Leadership rotates in and out of the organization through the natural changes that occur at the local level and, in part, because it is still forming its identity. It relies on volunteer efforts and on the time employees from supporting organizations, businesses, and agencies can designate from primary job responsibilities.
*From 2015 MINK Missouri River Corridor, INC Strategic Planning Conference Report. The complete report may be viewed here.