The City of Sidney was put in the national spotlight last night on Fox News, who highlighted the impact of the Bass Pro Shop acquisition of Cabela’s has had on the southern Panhandle community.
The article, “The Death of Sidney, Nebraska: How a Hedge Fund Destroyed a Good American Town,” got buzz across the state immediately after airing on Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson Tonight.
The story details Paul Singer’s Elliott Management hedge fund buying an 11 percent stake in Cabela’s, and then encouraging the sale. Bass Pro Shops ended up buying Cabela’s for $5.5 billion in 2017, and in turn, nearly all but the IT group and flagship store jobs have been eliminated or relocated to Bass Pro’s Missouri Headquarters.
Rural Radio News spoke with Sidney City Manager Ed Sadler on Wednesday morning, and he feels like the town’s portrayal was not an accurate depiction of Sidney. He says obviously the sale of Cabala’s has impacted the city, and there were lots of people who had to swap six-figure salaries to five-figure salaries. However Sadler stresses that town is not dead by any means.
“With 2,000 jobs lost, there’s only 70 houses for sale here… We’ve have over 1,000 new family units move here since 2016… If you look at the school enrollment, it did dip in the very first year, but since then it’s held steady.”
Sidney Economic Development Director Melissa Norgard also says two dozen new businesses have come to Sidney over the past few years, including: Nexgen Outfitters, Highby Outdoors, Lukjan Great Plains, Agri-Plastics, 308 Ag, Agency 39, and Sidney Foundry, to name a few.
Sadler alluded to how many times in history Sidney has been declared officially dead, “After the gold rush to South Dakota, after the oil boom, after the military moved their original fort out of here, after they closed the weapons depot here… and this is just one more bout of it. They’re just sure it’s dead this time, but we keep surprising people.”
He also disagrees with the segment stating that people are ‘stuck’ in Sidney.
“I think the people who are here are the people who want to be here. Homes are selling- I can’t imagine there’s a realtor in town that couldn’t retire after this because a lot of houses turned over indeed. But like I said, there’s 72 houses on the market right now. Which is obviously a lot more than there were four years ago… but with 2,000 jobs gone in most small towns, wouldn’t you assume there’d be a lot more houses for sale than that?”
Sadler does agree that Paul Singer and his group were the catalyst for the changes, “But for the most part, Paul Singer didn’t lay off anybody.”
U.S. Senator Ben Sasse was in the cross-hairs of Tucker Carlson’s segment for not making any comment about the sale of Cabela’s and the impact on Sidney. While U.S. Senator Deb Fischer and Gov. Pete Ricketts did release statements on the sale, Sadler believes they could have little impact on stopping such a sale.
“They don’t get to stop it,” said Sadler. “The only thing they can do is help us recover.”
Sadler feels like Sidney was used as a pawn in the story to attack Paul Singer.
“I mean, I think they came in specifically looking for Paul Singer. After they did us, then they went after Claire’s- the little jewelry store- and they’ve got this history of ‘this is how they make money’…. Do I think it’s the right way? Probably not, but it is what it is. It is private industry, and there’s not much I get to do to stop it.”
“But we’re not dead,” says Sadler. “We’ve gotten several new businesses. I’ve never seen a place do this many new businesses in this short of time ever in my life.”
Norgard says she’s seen lots of reaction to the Tucker Carlson segment on Sidney, noting that the story exposed facts people on a national scale were not aware of.
“Is Sidney dead? Absolutely not,” says Norgard. “Have we as a community been faced with uncertainty and challenges? Yes! But the foundation of this great community is the resilient people.”
She says the workforce in Sidney is hard-working, talented, knowledgeable and loyal.
“It’s these unique workforce qualities that make Sidney marketable and attractive to new companies.”
“We have started rebuilding the new Sidney. Our community has welcomed more than 20 new employers/businesses in the past two years and business expansion and recruitment efforts continue.”
Norgard adds that not everyone is going to agree with how the story came across, but is confident the national exposure will bring awareness and attention to companies and business leaders, which is what is needed to continue growing Sidney.
“Once they visit, they’ll see Sidney for its small-town values and big-time opportunities.”