The Nebraska EDA Tourism Grant Program, funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration, is supporting attractions across the state with marketing, planning, and infrastructure projects. Tourism spending in Nebraska reached an all-time high of $4.4 billion in 2022. That was a 20% increase from the previous record set in 2021. EDA Tourism grants are helping Nebraska travel destinations capitalize on this historically strong momentum in the state’s leisure and hospitality industry.
“As a lifelong Nebraskan, I know our state is full of amazing places to see and experience,” said DED Director K.C. Belitz. “We’re successfully attracting more and more visitors to explore all the Good Life has to offer. Through the EDA Tourism grants, DED is amplifying awareness of our state’s vibrant culture, fantastic entertainment, and welcoming communities.”
Casa de la Cultura in South Omaha hosts the popular Cinco de Mayo Omaha and Fiestas Patrias festivals. Marcos Mora is Executive Director of Casa de La Cultura, a Spanish phrase that translates to “house of culture.” His grassroots operation is growing; Cinco de Mayo Omaha is the largest celebration of its kind between Denver and Chicago. It draws more than 200,000 people annually to take part in the fun, with vendors driving up to four hours to participate. The economic impact of this tourism is significant. “It’s millions of dollars,” said Mora. “They (tourists) are getting hotels, they’re getting gas; it’s a win-win for everybody.”
Casa de la Cultura prepares all year for its main events. Its team must obtain permits, arrange security, recruit sponsors, and promote the celebrations through multiple media channels. The nonprofit received an EDA Tourism grant of $352,000. It will help Casa de la Cultura bring visitors to Omaha and allow the organization to hire a marketing director. Additionally, Mora said the grant means a lot to the elders in his South Omaha community. “For something that they’ve seen evolve, they’re very proud.”
The Omaha Theater Company, best known for The Rose Theater, received $250,000 from the EDA Tourism Grant Program. The grant is helping the theater company redesign its website and conduct magazine advertising, digital marketing, and extensive radio and television promotion. Attracting families to shows at The Rose benefits surrounding businesses, as theatergoers frequently shop and dine in the area on their way to a performance.
Freedomtainment in North Omaha sponsors the Omaha Freedom Festival, which celebrates Juneteenth and puts on the Level Up Career Fair. The organization received $352,000 through the EDA Tourism Grant Program. Calvin Williams, operations manager for Freedomtainment, said his team will use the grant to “revamp our websites and make sure both our programs are seen on multiple platforms.” The Omaha Freedom Festival has been recognized nationally as a Top Ten Juneteenth event, and Williams expects “to see a lot more collaborations and partnerships” as the group ramps up its digital and traditional marketing efforts.
The Museum of Nebraska Art (MONA) in Kearney received a grant of $225,000 to offset costs of a multifaceted, 24-month marketing campaign to promote the museum’s grand reopening. MONA closed in November 2021 to undertake a 23,000 square foot expansion. Beth Quinn, development manager for MONA, said the tourism grant “has been an absolute game-changer” as the museum prepares to welcome guests back in 2024.
Kearney also was awarded $41,160 for two major city events. The Sesquicentennial Birthday Party, held on June 24th, was a once-in-a-lifetime event that took place downtown. The city hosted the day-long celebration in collaboration with the Buffalo County Historical Society/Trails & Rails Museum. Festivities concluded with live music and a street dance. Grant funds supported event planning, marketing, and expenses tied to hosting the free event. Remaining grant funds will be used to support Kearney’s Christmas Walk, a free annual event held on the first Thursday of December. It serves as the city’s official kickoff to the holiday season and attracts hundreds of people.
In Beatrice, an EDA Tourism grant is enhancing the city’s promotion of area attractions such as Homestead National Historical Park, youth sporting events, and bike trails. The marketing funds will also increase awareness of community events scheduled throughout the year: Chocolate Lovers Shopping Day Extravaganza, Gage County Classic Film Festival, Goldenride Bikefest, Homestead Days® events, Homestead Cycling Tour, Hoppy Half Marathon, Lighted Holiday Parade and Holiday Season Events, live theater performances, Solstice Gravel Grinder, Taste of Spring – Beatrice Beer and Wine Festival, and more.