When his rural, Appalachian Region community of 1,100 lost 275 jobs, Richard LeFeber realized he was witnessing an economic disaster. He saw no established organization available to mobilize the community and see them through this disaster. LeFeber did not get discouraged, but saw this as an opportunity to make a change.
LeFeber founded an all-volunteer organization, The Cattaraugus Local Development Corporation (CLDC). The purpose of this nonprofit organization is to foster economic and community development. Since its inception in 1996, the CLDC has filled several key community roles: catalyst, advocate, champion, coach, facilitator, and implementer.
LeFeber and the CLDC have initiated and facilitated more than 17 projects capturing over $3.5 million for the 25 communities it now serves. LeFeber took a hiatus from his own business for two years to work full-time, without pay. He did this to insure the viability of the CLDC and its projects. They have been a needed resource to the Cattaraugus community and have been the cause of five businesses receiving low interest loans. These loans were from the two grants received from the United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA) that totaled more than $141,000. The money was set aside in a Revolving Loan Fund for small businesses.
CLDC has also funded a feasibility study to create a unique college curriculum in Preservation Arts. They now partner with Alfred State College which has received $60,000 in ARC funding to develop this program. CLDC has identified and facilitated a grant person to work with a village that needed a new water system. Their efforts on this particular project resulted in more than $650,000 in grants and low-interest loans to complete the projects.
Some other notable accomplishments of CLDC are taking a grassroots movement that took ownership of a 12-mile abandoned rail-bed and turning it into a “Rails-to-Trails.” The result was acquisition of the rail-bed, raising more than $500,000 in local match and the receipt of more than $1.5 million in grants for creating a multi-use, linear park through six municipalities. They have also replaced existing street lighting in the historic downtown district, took possession of a 1,100-acre defunct real estate development and transferring it to 540 parcels and green space to disadvantaged homeowners which resulted in permits for the construction of new homes. They also obtained a federal permit that approved 500 acres in the community into the Federal Wetland Reserve Program that would designate that are as a natural resource for educational research.
LeFeber has attended more than 430 civic meetings, seminars and public hearings. He has amassed over 50,000 miles traveling for CLDC and written over 1,000 pages of correspondence. In addition to this, he has personally given more than 5,500 hours of service during the last two years. He expended his personal resources to create this organization for the benefit of the community and aggressively worked to insure the variety of projects would be funded and completed. LeFeber restored his belief and others in the community that they can take control of their region and its viability.