SIDNEY, Neb. – In a piece entitled “The death of Sidney, Nebraska: How a hedge fund destroyed a ‘good American town’” Fox News personality Tucker Carlson and two of his producers shed light on the “corrupt” Cabela’s-Bass Pro Shops merger which was finalized in September 2017. An estimated 2,000 jobs have been lost in Sidney since that time, that much has been well documented, as has the imminent demise of the ‘Toughest Town on the Tracks.’
As the saying goes, people can learn a lot from history, and it would appear that this instance is about the third or fourth “devastating blow” Sidney won’t be able to overcome. But, what can’t be seen from two national network producers spending just 48 hours in this community is the resiliency that is shown from residents, business owners, and City officials.
“When the Gold Rush in South Dakota passed on, when the original Fort closed, when the oil industry moved on, when the weapons Depot closed here, it was always ‘this is the end,’ and it’s never been the end, and I don’t think this is the end either,” City Manager Ed Sadler said. “If you looked at a town and said it was 6,600 people and they lost 2,000 jobs, you’d expect there to be 52 people still in town, and that’s not the case.”
While the narrative from regional and national news organizations has been mostly negative on the outlook of the future of Sidney, for example a pair of opinion pieces written by a Sidney native, Jim Headley, last month detailing how his hometown is “dying,” local officials know it’s just a tactic to get clicks, sell subscriptions, etc. And while the average person would imagine negative publicity as being crippling to a town going through some of the trials and tribulations Sidney has experienced, City staff have realized it’s, in fact, the opposite.
“I’ve had lots of people already reaching out to me both via phone call and email,” Economic Development Director Melissa Norgard explained. “I know Ed has, the Mayor has had some people reach out to him. And not all of those will be good leads, I know that, but if you can get a handful of things that actually come to fruition that they saw the story on “Tucker Carlson,” or read the article on Fox News, and that leads to them relocating or expanding their business here and bringing new opportunities here, I consider that a win.”
The producers for “Tucker Carlson Tonight” reached out to Sidney Mayor Roger Gallaway in mid-October asking if he, and other City officials, would be interested in talking with them about changes since the merger. While he, Norgard, and Sadler all discussed the pros and cons of the situation, it was evident the producers would be traveling to Sidney no matter what they decided, so they decided to at least attempt to highlight some of the positives going on in the community.
Unfortunately, those clips didn’t make the cut for the two-and-a-half minute segment, but Gallaway noted he wasn’t surprised considering the primary focus of the piece was on the hedge funding involving Elliot Investment Group and Paul Singer prior to the merger. Still, Gallaway shared with KSID the message he believes is the most important for people to hear:
“I think a lot of people expected the worst, and it’s a tribute to everyone here in the community that things have gone as well as they have and continue to go as well as they have,” he stated. “People are doing a fantastic job of getting the word out about the community, and all of the positives that exist here within the community, and we’ll keep promoting that message. Like I’ve said before, we’ll make a great home for somebody.”
While some choose to look at the negative in the situation rather than the positive, the narrative is nothing new for City officials. In fact, since the merger of the two outdoor companies was finalized in 2017, Norgard estimates that over 25 new businesses have opened their doors or expanded to Cheyenne County. Not to mention the countless locations who have kept their doors open for decades in the community. But despite the ‘doom-and-gloom’ portrayal of Sidney, City officials take it with a grain of salt.
“We have faced this from the beginning,” Sadler said. “The story started in the Omaha World Herald, ‘The Death of Sidney,’ we’ve been dealing with this for three years now. Probably have gotten a little calloused towards it. I mean, yes, this was a bigger national forum, but we know it’s not the truth. And as I pointed out to someone else today, 2,000 jobs lost, yeah that’s about right. 72 homes for sale, over 1,000 new family units since 2016 have moved into Sidney. The day before Thanksgiving, the last two hours, signed up two more new families that moved into town on Wednesday. There’s a lot of new jobs created, we know Melissa’s worked hard on that, we’ve all worked hard on that, so dead? I don’t think so.”
At time of publication, the segment that aired on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” Tuesday already has over 143,000 views on the show’s Facebook page since the video was shared last night. The old adage believed to be coined by Phineas T. Barnum, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” may just ring true too for the city whose lights remain on.
– Dewayne Cook