In 2016, Nebraska hired a DC-based company to create a roadmap for the state’s economic development. The report, entitled Nebraska’s Next Economy, consisted of recommendations for solving Nebraska’s economic challenges. It identified four interrelated goals to strive for, with a range of policy recommendations on how to achieve them: high-paying jobs, technology-intensive investment, innovation and quality communities.
It has been six years since the report was published. We may easily forget how much our country has changed since then. Back then, our economy was still recovering from the Great Recession. Donald Trump has yet to take office as President. The only public health crisis that concerned people was the Chipotle E.coli outbreak.
Given how much has changed, The Reader decided to re-read the report and take a look at what is being done in Nebraska and the Omaha region to meet those goals.
High Paying Jobs
The report: “The simple implication is that the future of Nebraska’s economic development cannot be based on growth that creates jobs of any kind, but on growth that emphasizes quality jobs.”
The solutions: In 2014, voters approved Initiative 425, which raised the statewide minimum wage from $7.25 an hour (where it sits at the federal level) to $8 an hour in 2015 and $9 an hour in 2016. The data were collected from Dr. Chris Decker, an economist at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, shows that the move contributed to a 5.5% increase in real wages in the greater Omaha area in 2015. Wages largely stagnated until 2020, when real wage growth accelerated to 7.1%. High-paying jobs, particularly the H3 positions (high wages, high skills, high demand) called for in the report, grew slowly. Between 2010 and 2018, the number of H3 jobs, which make up Nebraska’s total employment, increased by 36,306, a 1.2% increase.
The report: “Technology-intensive and capital-intensive investments do not always have a direct impact on jobs, but they are associated with higher wages and make an important contribution to overall growth over the long term.”
The solutions: The Nebraska Tech Collaborative was founded in 2019 with an ambitious goal: to create 300 tech companies and 10,000 tech jobs by 2025. The state added 147 tech companies, about half of its target, but only created about 1,450 tech jobs in 2022, according to a NTC report. The rise in tech jobs isn’t just limited to startups — Mutual of Omaha, a local economy institution and Fortune 500 giant, told the Omaha World-Herald that it has created 300 tech jobs since 2019 and more than The tech sector employs 1,300 people. The NTC report states that Omaha’s average tech salaries in 2021 were just over $80,000.
The report: “A shift to quality also requires a shift to innovation-based economic development, where Nebraska’s economy fosters start-ups and fast-growing small and medium-sized businesses.”
The solutions: Anecdotally, start-up incubators are becoming more common in the private sector. Elevator, a co-warehousing facility for e-commerce startups, raised $600,000 this year to open a space at 14th and Jones. It’s like WeWork, but for businesses that sell physical goods and need warehouses to pack them. There will be a team of onsite mentors to help guide and scale businesses. There’s also NMotion, a startup accelerator that has pledged to invest $3.7 million in 24 Nebraska startups over the next two years. On the public side, the Nebraska Innovation Campus at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which began development in 2013, has established more than 58 public-private partnerships and generated more than $300 million in economic development, according to its 2021 annual report.
The report: “If you retain or attract the right talent, established companies and outsiders will invest more and new companies will be created. Both Omaha and Lincoln have great quality of life…but there’s always more to do, and strategies focused on building community wealth are critical in the long run.”
The solutions: Building a quality community is arguably the most divisive debate in Omaha politics right now. Mayor Jean Stothert’s plans to revitalize downtown Omaha include demolishing the W. Dale Clark Library, replacing it with a new headquarters for the Mutual of Omaha, and developing a streetcar system that would extend three miles along Farnam and Harney streets will drive. As the Clark library disappears, plans are afoot to build a new flagship branch at 72nd and Dodge. There’s also the redesigned Gene Leahy Mall, which Stothert describes as a destination for citizens and visitors alike. Many studies indicate that economic development will skyrocket with these changes. Only time will tell if that’s true or not.