Powerful economic ties span the Missouri River, connecting the Omaha area to Council Bluffs and other western Iowa communities. In many ways, this is an integrated economic region.
That’s why today’s announcement of a regional economic development partnership covering the Omaha area and southwest Iowa makes sense.
The goal of the new six-county Greater Omaha Economic Development Partnership is a smart one. The partnership, as explained in a proclamation signed by Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, aims to provide a “seamless” process for economic recruitment.
The partnership will provide a “one-stop center” where outside investors can get a complete picture — rather than a fragmented, parochial view — of the economic opportunities this region offers.
As The World-Herald’s Steve Jordon reports, the partnership will enable Nebraska and Iowa economic development officials to “work together on business recruiting, expansion and retention; marketing and branding the region’s image; improving the business climate; and developing talent.”
Such an approach has several laudable virtues. It makes economic recruitment and development more efficient and straightforward. (No longer will visitors be handed off by Nebraska officials to Iowa officials at the Missouri River, as if it were Checkpoint Charlie separating East and West Berlin in the 1960s.)
The partnership aims to capitalize on the region’s economic connections by maximizing the ability to land new projects regardless of location. Some projects that might not work in Omaha itself might work great in another community — and that will be good for the entire region.
When Council Bluffs landed the big Google facility, for example, Omaha wasn’t left out in the cold. The investment in the Bluffs means jobs for folks living on the western side of the river, too.
The partnership’s approach also sends the signal that state and community leaders in Nebraska and Iowa understand the value in working together and have a practical cooperative arrangement to carry out that goal.
That’s a marked contrast, for instance, to the behavior of our neighbors to the south, as Kansas and Missouri engage in a sometimes frantic effort to outbid one another for business investment.
No wonder that Jeff Finkle, president and CEO of the International Economic Development Council in Washington, D.C., told The World-Herald that the new partnership will be “a case study many people will watch.”
The concept of this regional approach is farsighted, but executing it will no doubt bring challenges. Calm heads will be needed on both sides of the river, and no one should get indigestion at the first sign of competitive differences.
A project that lands in southwest Iowa will be good for the Nebraska side of the metro area, too, just as one that adds jobs in La Vista will be good for the Iowa side.
The Greater Omaha Economic Development Partnership began more than 20 years ago and over the years has come to include Omaha and Douglas County plus Sarpy, Washington, Cass and Dodge Counties.
With the new cooperative arrangement with southwest Iowa, the partnership will now include the City of Council Bluffs, the Council Bluffs Chamber of Commerce, Pottawattamie County, the Western Iowa Development Association and the Iowa West Foundation.
In all, the six-county area is home to some 872,000 residents. Mills and Harrison Counties in Iowa are potential members of the partnership, too. Including those two counties would boost the partnership’s population base to some 925,000.
As Nebraska and Iowa leaders say, the key ingredient in this endeavor will be the building of trust among all the partners. All participants need to feel that they’re being given full opportunity under this ambitious arrangement.
If that important need is met, there’s no telling the bounty that can spring long term from this groundbreaking, visionary initiative.