Governor’s Inaugural Summit on Economic Development Unveils New Brand to Strengthen State’s Workforce
By Brittany Hardin, Nebraska Department of Economic Development
When a Nebraska marketing agency and state officials partnered to build a new state brand, they set out to gain knowledge from those who know the state best. Hardworking and experienced members of Nebraska’s workforce, business leaders, and multi-generational Nebraskans sent a clear and consistent message to the group: Nebraska’s quality of life is a key factor in growing businesses. After months of research and data, Governor Pete Ricketts and the Department of Economic Development (DED) unveiled the brand, now bringing momentum to a decades-old symbol of Nebraska’s strengths alongside modern-day possibilities. “Good Life. Great Opportunity.” combines the state’s “Nebraska: The Good Life” marketing slogan from the 1970’s and 1980’s with current efforts to generate economic development across the state. The brand represents Nebraskans’ efforts to grow their families and companies while building roots in a safe, strong and business-friendly environment.
Photo Caption: Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts (left) at Norland International
Part of that philosophy focuses on Nebraska’s ongoing attempts to retain and recruit talent to the state’s workforce, which was one focus of the Governor’s first “Summit on Economic Development” last July. The conference brought business and economic executives, shareholders, and elected officials together for an in-depth assessment of Nebraska’s multi-faceted economic development community, including target industries — such as agriculture, agriculture machinery, and food processing. Results gathered by the nonprofit and independent research center, SRI International, offered innovative strategies in programming and legislation to grow and attract companies to Nebraska. The study also identified strengths and needs within Nebraska’s tax incentive program, which is well-positioned to assist seasoned businesses in expansion efforts, but has room to grow in helping newer, high-growth companies thrive. Findings noted that these firms are essential in recruiting skilled labor to Nebraska’s workforce in order to compete in an international, high-tech economy. As industries such as information technology continue to evolve in Nebraska, demand for new talent is also growing. SRI reported that employees across the state are well-educated, and a high workforce participation rate indicates a strong work ethic. The firm encouraged Nebraska to increase entrepreneurial and internship opportunities as incentives for STEM students to choose Nebraska to build their careers.
NorthStar Financial Group, LLC, a financial services holding company headquartered in Omaha, celebrated the grand opening of its second Omaha office facility. The new 45,000 sq. ft. facility has enough space to house 360 employees. The company employees 500 full-time and 23 part-time employees in Nebraska. Lincoln-based Norland International, which manufactures bottled water production equipment and craft beer brewing equipment, opened an Innovation and Technology Center after doubling its staff to nearly 100 employees in less than two years. Company leaders’ entrepreneurial efforts also gained state recognition; a $50,000 Nebraska Innovation Fund Prototype grant paved the way for the company’s design of a canning system for beer and carbonated beverages. Meanwhile, more than $35,000 in State Trade and Export Program grants bolstered the company’s international business, which has sold equipment to more than 40 countries on six continents.
State leaders’ efforts to build international business networks resulted in the growth of an additional company in 2016. In June, Worldlawn Power Equipment, Inc., acquired a 275,000 square-foot facility to help solidify the company’s long term goals for growth. This international business builds outdoor power equipment such as lawn mowers and snow throwers and plans to increase its current staff of 30 employees at its global headquarters in Beatrice. Governor Ricketts helped bolster Nebraska’s growing relationship with the company during an international trade mission to China in 2015, when he had the opportunity to meet with Worldlawn President Hardy Shao.
Photo Caption: Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts with Hardy Shao, the President of Worldlawn Power Equipment, Inc
During their visit to China, Governor Ricketts and Director Dentlinger cemented a contract for the Nebraska-based Preferred Popcorn, LLC. The contract strengthened the company’s ongoing business relationship with Zhong Liang Tian Run (ZLTR) Trading Inc., which has purchased millions of pounds of Preferred Popcorn over the past two years. The recently-signed agreement will enable China to remain one of the company’s largest markets, which now sells popcorn to 70 countries around the world.
Nebraska’s continued efforts to recruit and build a talented workforce in a state known for its great quality of life gained nationwide recognition in 2016. Nebraska ranked third in Chief Executive’s 2016 findings on “The 10 Best States for Workforce Quality,” and was rated as the fourth-best state for work-life balance (Zippia, April 2016). In June 2016, MoneyRates scored Nebraska at number four in its “Best States for Millennials” category.
News outlets and magazines rated Nebraska as the number one contender in additional areas, including “Best States for the Middle Class” (Smart Asset, April 2016) and the “Highest High School Graduation Rates” (US News, May 2016).
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