Heineman, Branstad eager for teamwork in building Omaha-Bluffs regional economy

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Posted: Friday, January 3, 2014 12:00 am

Two governors pledged Friday that instead of competing tooth and nail, their states will work arm in arm to build the Omaha-Council Bluffs regional economy.

But support for economic collaboration by future governors and other leaders in eastern Nebraska and southwestern Iowa will depend on the performance over the next few years of a newly expanded partnership, Nebraska's Dave Heineman and Iowa's Terry Branstad said Friday.

Southwest Iowa's decision to join the Omaha-area economic development partnership, formally announced at a gathering of about 150 business and political leaders, won't stop future governors from competing for jobs, the two said.

“Hopefully we'll build a really strong, effective collaboration and the future governors and others will see the benefits of it,” Branstad said. “The track record we establish will determine whether future governors and mayors will participate.”

“Every governor I know competes every day,” Heineman said. If the new regional partnership shows solid economic-growth results, “the pressure is going to be on to work together.”

The two spoke during a press conference and proclamation-signing event at Gallup's headquarters along the Missouri River, the boundary between the two states.

The partnership's $31.4 million, five-year budget includes a $2.2 million pledge announced Friday by the Iowa West Foundation, which gets funding from Council Bluffs casinos.

In all, 37 staff members in the partnership will work on all aspects of economic development, from developing a new regional brand to influencing public policy that affects the states' business climates.

The event marked the official expansion of the Greater Omaha Economic Development Partnership to include Advance Southwest Iowa, a new group made up of the City of Council Bluffs, the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce, the Iowa West Foundation, Pottawattamie County and the Western Iowa Development Association.

Advance Southwest Iowa is now a full partner with the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and the City of Omaha, the Cass County Nebraska Economic Development Council, Gateway Development Corp. of Washington County, the Greater Fremont Development Council and the Sarpy County Economic Development Corp.

Sharon White, a Bluffs City Council member and president of Advance Southwest Iowa, said Mills and Harrison Counties in Iowa may consider joining the group, too. “We have to show them it that it works,” she said.

Bob Mundt, CEO of the Bluffs chamber, said a team is working to develop a new brand for the region, similar to the Siouxland designation of the three states that meet near Sioux City, Iowa, and the Iowa-Illinois communities that make up the Quad-Cities.

Advance Southwest Iowa has hired Mike Dellinger as its vice president of economic development. He has offices at the Omaha chamber and in Pottawattamie County.

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