Two companies are considering expansion projects in Nebraska that would bring hundreds of jobs to the state and about $750 million in investment, the heads of economic development for the State of Nebraska and the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce said Thursday.

Randy Thelen, senior vice president of economic development at the Omaha Chamber, and Brenda Hicks-Sorensen, director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, spoke about expanding businesses in the area at a monthly meeting of the Association for Corporate Growth.

Thelen said a company is considering an expansion in Omaha could bring 300 jobs along with an office component. That company has not yet committed to expanding here, but the prospect itself is good news, Thelen said: "You don't get many half-billion-dollar projects that come through the door," he said. He wouldn't name the company.

Another project in the western portion of the state could bring $250 million in investment in addition to "significant" job numbers, Hicks-Sorensen said. She also wouldn't name the company.

Thelen came to Omaha in March 2014 and Hicks-Sorensen was appointed by Gov. Pete Ricketts in February; each of them aims to overhaul outsiders' perception of doing business here, among other tasks.

The chamber launched its "We Don't Coast" brand campaign in August 2014. Hicks-Sorensen is planning to roll out a marketing initiative representing the state in the next six weeks.

Hicks-Sorensen said capitalizing on the state's agricultural prowess with a brand like "The Beef State" would give short shrift to other industries like technology and manufacturing that are often independent of the agricultural sector.

"We want to really represent that and send the message about what Nebraska is and what it means to work and live here."

Rebranding Nebraska's economic image isn't the only overhaul going on in Lincoln.

The state's new director of economic development had been on the job for less than 48 hours when Ricketts in February gave her the task of modernizing the state's economic development incentives.

Hicks-Sorensen, who most recently was vice president of community and economic development for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. in Madison, joked with a Thursday morning crowd that she thought she'd have "at least two weeks before she had to start digging into that."

"The governor very quickly said 'Rather than tweaking it, let's start with a clean slate,' " Hicks-Sorensen said.

Much of the department's focus will be on remodeling the Nebraska Advantage Package, which contains the state's primary economic-development incentives. As the program is currently structured, companies' tax benefits are determined using a tiered scale that provides varying benefits depending on the size of investment and the volume of new jobs created.

For example, qualifying businesses that invest $1 million and create 10 new jobs are eligible for various tax credits, including a partial sales tax refund.

"The end result in all of this will be an omni bill, which we anticipate will have significant legislative and budgetary impacts for the state," Hicks-Sorensen said.

Contact the writer:402-444-1534,

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