New Senator, Solid Vision

New Senator, Solid Vision

Nebraska's economic priorities need to be education, agriculture, transportation and technology, and there's not much time to waste.

"We either plan for how we're going to be a part of the global economy, or we lose big time," said Senator Kathy Campbell of Lincoln. And the state has to get over the concept of who's winning and who's losing - and work together for the good of the whole state.

Kathy Campbell was elected in November, 2008 to represent the 25th District in Nebraska's Unicameral, replacing Senator Ron Raikes. Raikes had served eight years and because of term limits, could not run again. Campbell brings more than 30 years of experience in business, government and human services to the legislature.

She is Executive Vice President of CEDARS Home for Children Foundation, served 16 years on the Lancaster County Board of Commissioners and has been involved in the family business - Campbell's Nursery and Garden Center. Educated as a teacher, she earned both bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Economic Engines

Campbell believes Nebraska's chief economic engines are education, agriculture, transportation and technology - not necessarily in that order - but Nebraskans need to learn how each impacts the state's economy.

The University of Nebraska is an economic engine for the state," she said. "We have many higher education opportunities, but one major university - and we need to maximize the use of it. They're willing to get involved, and that's an asset."

The University of Nebraska will play a big role in the global economic effort, she said, and part of that will be Innovation Campus, a research park to be built in Lincoln on the site of the Nebraska State Fair. "I maintain that Innovation Campus will have a greater benefit to greater Nebraska than it will to Omaha and Lincoln," she said, because it has the potential to create a network with every part of the state.

"We're lucky that we have agriculture; we have a healthy cash reserve here because of agriculture," Campbell said. In Nebraska, one job in every three or four is connected to agriculture, so it will always have a major role in Nebraska's future, she added.

"We need to see how we can tie ancillary services to the strength we already have in agriculture," she said. "We need to build on what we have." Nebraska has a small population, but there's strength in that and in knowing what businesses can work best with others.

"We either plan for how we're going to be a part of the global economy, or we lose big time.

The state has the land mass to support agriculture, and with the continued work of the University of Nebraska researchers, agricultural products can not only feed the world, but they can be the energy of tomorrow through corn, switchgrass and other commodities that can be converted into fuel. "We need that shot in the arm for agriculture," she said. "We need to be sure they're on the cutting edge so they're economically viable."

Wind Energy
The energy of tomorrow can also include wind energy. "It has caught people's attention," Campbell said, but the cost of wind energy is not installing the equipment - it's in the cost of transmission lines. Wind energy has great potential, she said; it's a good use of the land. "And if we could draw down the federal dollars to transmit it, we'd be in great shape. But boy, that's a huge capital investment."

Many people don't understand how energy is transmitted in the United States, she said, or why an ice storm in greater Nebraska is reflected on energy bills in eastern Nebraska.

And it's important for the public to learn about issues that affect the state so Nebraska can grow and so citizens can cast informed votes.

Campbell learned about the importance of transportation to Nebraska's economy when she served on a transportation task force for then-Governor Mike Johanns. She traveled the state, attending public hearings and listening to people in full auditoriums. "Roads are being built in this state with very little view to how it plays into the economic health of the communities," she said. "We ought to be able to figure that in."

When Campbell served on the Lancaster County Board, she heard from people who wanted to have county roads paved. There is a certain formula, she said, for determining paving priorities - if more than about 450 vehicles use the road in a day, then the asphalting project is possible.

"When I traveled the state, what became so clear was that numbers don't count," she said. "You have to create those links with other states in order to create economic potential." If you don't have adequate roads, you don't have adequate economic opportunities. And in many areas, they don't reach 450 vehicles per day - but they still need to have paved roads.

Campbell's 25th district has the issue of the south and east beltways, which may eventually be part of Lincoln's transportation network. The south beltway would connect U.S. Highway 77 with Nebraska Highway 2, while the east beltway would connect Nebraska Highway 2 with Interstate 80. One of the considerations, she said, is "how to grow a community the size of Lincoln and still protect the integrity of small communities?" Unlike Douglas County, Lancaster County has more small communities to protect, but transportation connectivity with Omaha is increasingly important.

One of Nebraska's strengths is in its location in the center of the United States, she said. In fact, she believes Nebraska could be an air and rail transportation hub. "It's not outside the realm of possibility," she said.

Technology is affecting every area of the state - from broadband capacity and access to converting commodities to fuel. Internet connectivity allows people to live in smaller communities and still conduct business globally.

"What a lot of potential here - to bring a network to areas all across the state. We can create a network and a link to every region," she said.

Working Together
"If you're going to maximize your efforts in a small-population state, you're going to have to rely on the networks you create," Campbell said. But those networks don't just happen; they need to be structured and purposeful and should involve a wide group of Nebraska's existing businesses, educational institutions and representatives from local, state and federal government.

Representatives from these groups should consider meeting annually to have purposeful conversations about moving the state forward economically.

"When you see things happening, you see the ripple effect," she said. "I do see Lincoln and Omaha collaborating regionally. And that's why, as a senator from the Lincoln area, you really want to see both communities prosper and grow economically," she said.

The Human Services Aspect
Campbell helped start the Nebraska Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse and has always been involved with issues involving children, including a seat on the Medicaid Reform Council. She serves on the Health and Human Services Committee in the Unicameral, as well as the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee.

"Unless we have a very solid economic development focus in this state, so much of what I advocate for children and families can't happen unless they have a good job and a way to care for themselves," she said.