Nebraska Department of Economic Development Director Anthony L. Goins and Governor Pete Ricketts have each other on speed dial.
“We communicate multiple times a week,” said Goins. “Even more so since the start of the pandemic. Economic development and continuing to grow the state – creating opportunities for Nebraskans – is something the Governor is remarkably passionate about, and something we have, if anything, redoubled on as a state since the start of 2020.”
Ricketts laid out his administration’s vision to “grow Nebraska” even before taking office in 2015 – he’s now in his second term – and has made it a priority ever since. It’s to the extent that the vision’s “Four Pillars” have become a regular pop quiz question at State personnel meetings, recitable by everyone from business recruiters to tech support staff.
“Developing our workforce, cutting red tape, managing the budget and telling Nebraska’s story,” Goins says without pause. “That is the blueprint the Governor has laid out for how we will continue to succeed and win as a state.”
By all evidence, that recipe is working. For example, the state ranked in America’s top 10 for business in 2019 according to Forbes, with the number two regulatory environment; meanwhile it had the nation’s lowest unemployment rate as of December 2020; sustains one of America’s best fiscal ratings; and has had one of the least-impacted GDPs throughout the pandemic. That’s aside from quality-of-life accolades like being named the number one state for retirement (Bankrate), the number six state for education (U.S. News) and the number eight best state for families (WalletHub).
Goins, a former Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, says he’s particularly proud to be known as the number one state for low Veteran’s unemployment, and one of the top 10 states for Veterans overall (smartasset; CNBC).
“If you are a Veteran who’s looking to raise a family, start a great career or own a business, we sincerely want you in Nebraska, and will find ways to help you to move here,” he said, pointing to recent tax cuts for Veterans and statewide initiatives designed to help them relocate and find high-paying jobs. “You might start by visiting our Nebraska Department of Labor website, or calling anyone on my team at the Department of Economic Development.”
Nebraska’s sustained run of economic expansion is epitomized in its back-to-back-to-back “Governor’s Cup” awards from Site Selection in 2017, 2018 and 2019, which it received for tacking up America’s most economic development projects per capita; that award took into account projects ranging from Lincoln Premium Poultry’s expansive production operations to more than a billion in new data center investments from tech giants Facebook and Google, as well as investments from Yahoo!, LinkedIn and more.
“We are evolving from ‘the heartland’ to also being the heart of the Silicon Prairie,” Goins said of the state’s booming tech ecosphere. “If you are a technology company – from startups to large firms – we want you to know we are open and ready to do business, and that we have the talent and resources to help you succeed.”
Sound fiscal policy and a dogged “just do business” mentality may be exactly what sustained Nebraska’s economic momentum during a more-than-turbulent 2020 that left no state unscathed. The fact remains that despite losses and setbacks, Nebraska somehow found ways to keep growing, with industries like tech, bioscience, advanced manufacturing, finance and food processing tracking new investments. In the fourth quarter alone, for example, Amazon announced a new Robotics Fulfillment Center in eastern Sarpy County, while Dollar General unveiled a first-of-its-kind dual-distribution facility in the city of Blair; meanwhile, thanks in a large part to the University of Nebraska Medical Center and an army of cutting-edge startups, the state experienced a reputation surge in the realm of medical innovation and the battling of infectious disease.
“Part of economic expansion will always be about strategic advantages like affordability, location and infrastructure,” Goins said. “But I think there’s something to be said for the way we’ve weathered this difficult period. Nebraska has historically been resilient due to our agricultural heritage and backbone industries, and, though I would never minimize the losses some of our small businesses have faced, we’ve managed to display that resilience here with our modern economy as well. That resilience says something about the state where you’re considering locating your business, and I think companies have keyed in on that and paid attention.”
For Goins – who hails from the banking world but also owns his own small business – part of what makes the state continue to succeed is a slew of intangibles, ranging from teamwork to community values, kindness and acceptance.
“Relationships matter, people matter. It means something when you’re a corporate recruiter and you are able to contact the head of the state public power district personally on the phone,” he said. “Or when your employees live in a safe community that is accepting and welcoming. I have never in my life lived somewhere where the people are more open-minded and respectful of each other than here in Nebraska. There is something truly unique about this state in that regard.”
Looking to the horizon, Goins says a priority will be to spearhead policies and initiatives that will help struggling small business owners regain their footing after a year of struggles. With support from the Governor and other State teams, his Department has already administered over $410 million in no-repayment grants from the CARES Act to help over 12,200 small business owners, as well as 1,400 restaurants and bars and 1,900 licensed personal service providers, keep their doors open. Other efforts have included funding for community college training programs to upskill displaced workers, nearly $30 million to expand broadband capabilities in rural communities with inadequate service for remote work or telehealth/education, and more.
“There’s light at the end of the tunnel and we’re thankful we have been able to help so many individuals and families,” Goins said. “But we know there’s still more work to do.”
In the meantime, Nebraska is preparing to bounce back bigger than ever. For example, Goins’ Department is in the process of hiring new teammates to administer the freshly-minted ImagineNE business incentives package, which will add even more fuel to the argument for why businesses should consider choosing Nebraska. Or there’s the new economic development field office in North Omaha, which, launched by Ricketts and spearheaded by DED, will help disadvantaged business owners achieve their dreams and empower anyone to participate in the economic system.
In other words, there’s a big horizon to look out on.
“In Nebraska we all wear the same jersey,” Goins said. “And we want you on our team. If you want to know more about the opportunity here, you can call my Department and we will personally look forward to speaking to you. You might even be put on speed dial.”
Visit opportunity.nebraska.gov or the goodlifeiscalling.com for more info.