FIVE RULE Fights for Small-Town America
Bobbi Pettit grew up in Merna, a small farming community where vacant houses and aging streets were the norm.
“I couldn’t help but feel like the town was falling down around me, and it always bothered me,” Bobbi said. “I wanted to do something about that.”
She started her career in politics (with Tom Osborne) intending to help rural towns and then moved onto community planning and banking before starting FIVE RULE Rural Planning in 2018. The business allows her to follow her dream of helping small communities thrive.
The company’s name honors her younger brother, Jonathan, who was studying to be a doctor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center when he was killed in a car accident outside of Merna in August 2009.
“He loved the small-town way of life, and I believe he would have been a great family practice, small-town doctor,” Bobbi said. “I was serving in Iraq at the time, but he had been writing to me often, and he was always so supportive of me and probably one of my best friends. His medical school classmates came to the funeral with bookmarks they had made. They said Jonathan had these five rules that he was living by and telling everyone else about.”
Jonathan’s five rules were:
- Never think of wealth in terms of currency.
- Gorbachev tear down this wall.
- You gotta own it.
- Life is cumulative.
- Loose lips sink ships.
When she started her business, she wanted to name the business after Jonathan somehow. Her cousin, who is a brand director in Minnesota, created the name FIVE RULE and a logo. Bobbi loved the idea, and it became her business name.
Helping Rural Communities
FIVE RULE, 2123 Central Ave Suite D in Kearney, is a consulting business specializing in providing economic development and planning services to local governments and economic development organizations in communities with populations of 5,000 and below in the rural Midwest.
Customers are most often local governments (mainly municipalities), a local chamber of commerce or economic development foundation. Services include writing and enforcing zoning ordinances, completing blight studies, updating a comprehensive future land use plan or long-range planning and visioning.
FIVE RULE helped the Shelton Economic and Community Development Board and the City of Arapahoe write an economic development sales tax plan (LB 840) and educate the community on the sales tax. It has also helped the Village of Firth with a zoning ordinance update, the City of Stanton with a downtown revitalization plan and the Village of Adams with zoning map updates
“I believe we have done a good job of standing up for education and agriculture in Nebraska, but I don’t believe we have done a good job of standing up for the communities that support agriculture,” Bobbi said. “There is a huge demand for services here. Some small towns will inevitably disappear back to the countryside, but I truly believe that will happen from a lack of vision and leadership, not from changes in agriculture or the economy. I want small towns to know they have a choice and the ability to impact their today and the future.”
FIVE RULE’s mission statement is, “We fight for small-town America by providing education, empowerment, and advocacy to rural communities that have decided not to dry up and blow away.”
Besides Bobbi, FIVE RULE has one semi-full time employee and one sub-contractor.
Bobbi has extensive experience in working with small towns. She earned bachelor’s degrees in political science and economics from the University of Nebraska at Kearney and a master’s degree in community regional planning from UNL. She first learned about economic development by traveling the state working for Tom Osborne when he was the Third District Representative.
She considered going into economic development work after Osborne lost his bid for governor, but instead, she pursued her studies in community regional planning. She interned at RDG Planning & Design in Omaha.
“I fell in love with planning and decided that what many of our small towns’ elected officials were missing was knowledge about how to develop and regulate land use within their jurisdictions,” she said.
She then worked as the Deputy Master Planner for the Nebraska Army National Guard, the Assistant Development Services Director for the City of Kearney, Community Planner at South-Central Economic Development District, loan officer at the Nebraska Enterprise Fund, and Central Nebraska Manager at Liberty Mobility Now.
Surrounded By Other Dreamers
When Bobbi was traveling the state as part of her job with Congressman Osborne, she met GROW Nebraska CEO Janell Anderson Ehrke.
“I saw Janell at several events and was always watching her “grow” this organization that she was passionate about but also raise her (at the time) two small children and stay married to her husband,” Bobbi said. “I have a lot of respect for Janell and all that she has built and her perseverance. After I started FIVE RULE and realized how rewarding but also how HARD this was going to be, I reached out to Janell. I decided to join GROW to surround myself with other people who are working on their dreams, and I have not been disappointed.”
Bobbi said that growing and owning a small business can be lonely.
“I joined GROW to grow my network of people that I knew would support me, understand my fatigue and fear, and encourage me not to give up,” she said.
Bobbi said her only goal for her first year of business was to make it through the year. Now that she has survived more than two years in business, she is looking forward.
“For so long, starting this business was THE dream,” Bobbi said. “Now, I am trying to start dreaming again and picture what’s next for FIVE RULE.”
One goal is to add more full-time staff, and she wants to help rural community leaders and residents understand that they can have a positive impact on the future “by protecting our two most valuable resources: our people and our land,” she said. “I do not have all the answers and I am not an expert, but I spend a lot of time thinking about our communities. I deeply and truly believe that our way of life is wonderful and preservable. And I just want to help those communities out there that know that, too.”