SUPERIOR, Neb. -- This used to be frontier territory - and, by one definition, much of it is again.
The great Great Plains migration, which has sent businesses, jobs and young people to metro regions such as Omaha, has destroyed many once-thriving small towns and produced an ominous statistic:
Many rural areas in the Great Plains have lost so much population that they again meet the 19th-century definition of frontier territory, an area with six or fewer people per square mile.
Like other small businessmen, auto dealers have taken their lumps.
Over the past decade, 703 General Motors, Chrysler group and Ford Motor Co. dealerships in a 10-state region of the Great Plains have closed. Small-town dealerships have borne the brunt of the consolidation, dealers say.
But many aren't going quietly.
Three Nebraska dealers who are determined to stick it out are examples of three distinct strategies:
Taking a stand: Steve Henderson is staying put. He's upgrading his facilities and has become an economic booster, working to bring new businesses, jobs and vitality to his sagging town.
Heading for the highway: Bill Maddox was marooned when his small town was skirted by the interstate system. So he moved out to the freeway, where the action is.
The Wal-Mart strategy: Harry Larson watched the offer-it-all superstores take business from the mom-and-pop specialists and responded. He consolidated several dying dealerships into a business that sells every domestic brand except Saturn and Hummer.
Here are their stories:
Nowhere is the Great Plains' economic struggle more evident than in Superior, Neb., where Steve Henderson's two stores are located. The town calls itself the "Oasis of the Great Plains," but the oasis is looking a bit frayed. View story
Nebraskans refer to I-80 as "the Fishhook" because it runs straight across much of the state before curling up around Omaha in the east. Near the sharp end of the Fishhook in Blair, Neb. (pop. 8,000), is Woodhouse Ford. Last year, the dealership says, it sold 5,200 F-series pickups. View story
In Nebraska City, Neb. (pop. 7,228), Harry Larson looked to Wal-Mart for a business model. "For small dealers to survive, they must have a Wal-Mart appearance, selection and pricing," says Larson, whose Larson Motors Inc. sells 25 to 30 new cars and trucks per month. View story
It has been a tough decade for small rural Great Plains auto dealers. Towns -- even entire counties -- lost all their dealerships as economic hardship continued to squeeze a vast region that includes more than half a million square miles. View story
|GM and Ford lost a greater percentage of dealers in Great Plains states* than in the nation as a whole.|
|Great Plains franchises||1994||2004||change|
You may e-mail Robert Sherefkin at [email protected]