By Michael D. White, author and freelance writer
If any state in the Union is truly plugged-in to energize its economic development game, it’s Nebraska—a state which boasts a truly exceptional conduit connecting businesses looking to expand their operations with those regions of the state which can best serve as the ideal location to flip the switch on their growth strategies.
That conduit is the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD), a publicly-owned utility and a political subdivision of the state government with a reach that encompasses all or parts of 84 of Nebraska’s 93 counties that provides business and communities the power to grow in more ways than simply keeping the lights on.
“We offer both communities and companies a unique network of connective programs to assist them with their economic development plans,” says to NPPD Economic Development Manager, Nicole Sedlacek.
“Basically, we help communities identify targeted industries that make sense for their community and their region, and we assist with strategic planning, by helping them set goals and create action plans seeded with the latest information and research data around their community. We also help them in assessing their strengths, particularly in the area of workforce development.”
According to Sedlacek, the NPPD is busy keeping focused on a handful of targeted industries including food processing.
“We are centrally located in the heart of the country with agriculture being a major growth player in the state’s growth,” she says. “Nebraska has seen a lot of growth in beef and poultry industry opportunities projects that have helped a lot of companies serve their customers throughout the country.”
One project of particular interest that was successfully concluded involved a company in the pet food industry.
In 2020, Petsource, a sub-unit of Omaha-based food processing giant Scouler opened the doors at a new $50 million, 105,000 square-foot facility in Seward, Nebraska that freeze-dries and packages high-protein ingredients for pet food manufacturers. The state-of-the-art plant brings together the company’s product development, procurement, and production operations under one roof, a first in the industry.
“It was initially an attraction project, says Sedlacek. “Scouler was looking to expand the pet food side of their business and set about looking for a location for a new facility. We helped Seward collect all of the appropriate, targeted data and information, and the community successfully recruited the Petsource operation to its BNSF Rail Park.”
The Petsource facility has proven so successful that Scouler has invested an additional $75 million into expanding the plant, a move that will triple its production output.
Other industry sectors of particular interest is light, heavy, and advanced manufacturing, as well as data centers, IT-related operations, and bio-sciences. “With ethanol being a big industry here, the state is at the epicenter of finding new ways to utilize it as a fuel and even other non-energy uses,” says Sedlacek.
At its core is the fact that the immense scope of the NPPD’s service territory makes sense from an energy perspective.
“With the rising cost of energy nationwide, the Nebraska Public Power District is on the retail side of the business and is experiencing its 10th consecutive year of stable rates,” says Sedlacek. “Our wholesale customers who purchase electricity from will see no overall rate increase for the sixth straight year. And so, in addition, we’ve been able to maintain those stable rates and share our surpluses back to our wholesale customers.”
In addition, the NPPD, she says, benchmark its wholesale rates under the auspices of the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation. Last year, the power agency finished in the Corporation’s lowest quartile.
“We offer some of the lowest utility rates in the country, so we’re working to continue to keep rates at a minimum, and offer those low cost, energy prices to companies already doing business in or planning to do business in Nebraska.”
The agency, she says, places a high priority on business retention and expansion by working with its existing customer base and connecting them to the state’s many economic development resource programs.
“Internally, we have highly-regarded energy efficiency programs that can help them cut the cost of doing business, but we do even more by plugging them into the different resources and programs available from various state agencies starting with the Nebraska Office of Economic Development,” she says.
“We are very collaborative in spirit and want to make sure we bring all of the right players be they state, county, or local economic development organizations. We work closely with the Department of Transportation, the Department of Agriculture, whoever can help move a project to the finish line.
“We work very closely with all of them, and we’re participating in a number of companies outside the state that have expressed an interest in Nebraska, and making our pitch why Nebraska is the place to do business. We all wear the Nebraska hat and that brings us all together.”
Several other pluses that put the state consistently near the top of the list as “The Place” to grow a business include the fact that the cost of doing business in the state is some eight percent below the national average; cargo deliveries of Nebraska-made goods can reach 90 percent of points throughout the country within two days; I-80, which spans the nation, runs the entire width of the state from east to west; and nine major airports, and 300 miles of inland waterways serve the state’s diverse business community.
A native Cornhusker, Sedlacek sees Nebraska as “a small, close knit community. True, we’re a fairly good-sized state, but we’re not huge by any means, and from a business standpoint, our state leadership is very pro business and development friendly.”
It’s the ease of access to those at the state, regional and local levels, she says, that makes Nebraska “very relationship oriented in a very positive way,” she says. “Relationships are important and really matter here. And that’s abundantly evident in our business promotion and industry communities, and how they work together to achieve the desired goals.”
Nebraska “is just the right size. It’s just easier here; it’s a large scale community that can grow and functions smoothly well beyond expectations.”