It has been interesting to visit with individuals in various communities in Nebraska to learn their perspectives about Nebraska's economic future. In their collective view, the economic future of Nebraska comes down to a few basic themes: agriculture, education, technology, infrastructure, leadership, statewide cooperation. And people.
Nebraskans like where they live. Young and old, they like the "sense of place" they feel here. They like being part of the legendary work ethic. They like the fact that, for the most part, they feel safe here. They like the fact that Nebraska agriculture helps to feed and power the world.
But when people from other states ask them where they're from, they sound apologetic. The Strategic Discussions for Nebraska team heard variations on that theme everywhere we went. Caleb Pollard, Executive Director of the Ord Chamber of Commerce said it best: "we need for Nebraskans to be proud."
Snapshot of Nebraska's Economy
Nebraska is a conservative state, both politically and fiscally. It is constitutionally required to balance the state budget. It is also a state with only 1.7 million people, so there are few people to share the property tax burden. Additionally, Nebraska doesn't have mineral resources that some states tax heavily, relieving the property tax burden on individuals. However, Nebraska's sales and income taxes are about the same as its peer states, a fact that is often overlooked when people share concerns about taxes.
One of the state's main concerns is the declining work force, particularly in greater Nebraska. This magazine contains several stories that refer to the work force shortage and the challenges faced by communities that desperately need workers.
Nebraska's Strong Agricultural Base
Agriculture has changed in the last century, but it's a booming business and Nebraskans are knowledgeable about those changes. They know the state is well-suited to growing high-quality crops and animals, and they know people in the rest of the world want to buy them. They know the University of Nebraska's research has been important for Nebraska agriculture, and they support the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Nebraska Innovation Campus, which will be built in Lincoln on the site of the Nebraska State Fair when the fair moves to Grand Island in 2010.
Nebraska exported nearly $5.5 billion dollars worth of agricultural and manufactured goods in 2008. That's up from $3.6 billion in 2006 and $4.2 billion in 2007. According to Greg Ibach, Director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, exports bring the state a steady flow of domestic and international sales and allow the state to remain strong during financial cycles that affect the U.S. and other countries. Nebraska is fortunate to have not only the natural resources to produce some of the best agricultural products - and can source the needed parts and material for the manufactured products - but also has the people with the needed background, knowledge, experience and work ethic to produce the quality products, Ibach said.
Importance of Education and Technology
There are no greater proponents of education than people in greater Nebraska. The state's education system is good and is one of the drawing cards for businesses interested in locating in the state.
Nebraskans know that jobs today and in the future will require more knowledge of technology in all its forms. Whether people work in information technology in Omaha, farm near Cozad, ranch near Mullen, read x-rays in Ord, work on locomotives in Alliance or conduct research in one of dozens of locations in the state, they'll have to know technology.
Technology requires consistent broadband access and capacity that statewide, Nebraska just doesn't have. A conversation participant who lives outside North Platte told us her satellite gives her access to the Internet "as long as it isn't cloudy." That isn't good enough for the needs of rural health care, business development, education or for attracting young people to smaller communities.
If a state doesn't have good infrastructure, it closes doors to economic development and therefore, growth.
Infrastructure necessary for every viable community includes water, sewer, electricity, roads and Internet access. Additional infrastructure needs are schools, health care facilities, power plants, transportation and communication.
It's expensive to build these things and expensive to maintain existing facilities. Dr. Doug Kristensen, Chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Kearney, told us many of the state's school buildings were built about the same time - about 100 years ago - and are beginning to crumble, requiring extensive and costly repairs or replacement.
Changing Nebraska's Layout?
The Strategic Discussions for Nebraska team interviewed a number of people who believe Nebraska should change its county structure.
Ninety-three counties were needed when people had to use a horse and buggy to get to the county seat, but some say the state could save money if the counties were merged, creating about 15 larger counties. Others say there would be few dollars in savings and would widen the gap between greater Nebraska and eastern Nebraska in accessibility to services.
Others suggest a "hub and spoke" regional layout, in which one town would be the hub and about 10 or 12 smaller communities would be the spokes. Trouble is, everybody wants to be the hub.
What makes the most sense? Send your opinion to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll post the results on the Strategic Discussions for Nebraska website: www.unl.edu/sdn.
Leadership and Cooperation
People told us the state and communities need strong leaders who are willing to partner with other organizations, communities, states and countries for the good of Nebraska as a whole. It also needs leaders who will consider the needs of the entire state, regardless of money, power or special interests.
In this magazine, you will find a variety of perspectives on Nebraska's economy, including the opinions of state and community leaders, academics, business owners and government officials. Each opinion has value, based on the person's experience, education, location and economic condition.
Opportunities for Nebraska, Volume Three: Food Scarcity is the third annual publication of Strategic Discussions for Nebraska, exploring the importance of University of Nebraska research on the way we live- and on the way the world lives. Read more>>
Opportunities for Nebraska, Volume Two: Energy, Climate and Sustainability is the second annual publication of Strategic Discussions for Nebraska that explores the impact and relevance of University of Nebraska research.
Watch and listen as experts tell the stories of research and innovation at the University of Nebraska- one of the top research universities in the United States. Read more>>
Opportunities for Nebraska is the first magazine in a series that showcases University of Nebraska-Lincoln research. The world population is expected to grow to nine billion by 2050 and this research will result in producing twice as much food with the same amount of land and water. Watch and listen as UNL experts tell the stories of research and innovation at one of the top research universities in the country!
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UNL student researchers along with SDN conducted a major research project to study the ways Ord residents communicate about what is happening in the community.
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Published in June 2009, Nebraska's Economic Future includes a summary of findings; stories based on individual interviews; summaries of community conversations; and articles written specifically for this magazine. The articles represent varied geographical perspectives as well as perspectives on various parts of the state's economy.
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SDN published research on Immigration in Nebraska for the project's initial study in May 2008. We selected Scottsbluff, Lexington, Crete and Omaha and looked at the impact immigration has had on those communities.
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