LINCOLN — Three Nebraska officials working to attract new businesses to the state called Tuesday for policies to lower taxes, strengthen education and focus on entrepreneurship.

"One critically important thing is we've got to continue to improve the tax environment in the state," Gov. Dave Heineman said during a press conference promoting the 47th annual Nebraska Diplomats Passport Weekend starting Friday in Lincoln.

The diplomats are 280 business executives and community leaders who make personal contacts with leaders in other states and nations while on business travels. They volunteer for three years, and their work is coordinated by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.

Dacia Kruse, the department's acting director, said improving job-skills training and higher education opportunities for more Nebraskans can also help the state compete for relocating companies and business startups.

Finding ways to help entrepreneurs take the risk of starting a new business also is important, said Dan Shundoff, chief executive officer of Intellicom Computer Consulting in Kearney and current president of the Nebraska Diplomats.

The diplomat program not only provides prospective business owners with personal contacts, it also frequently makes the initial step in recruitment, Kruse said. She cited the new Bell Lumber & Pole manufacturing plant and logistics center in Sidney as an example of a successful recruitment effort that started with a diplomat contact.

The center, which began operations in March, currently employs 36 full-time workers, said Shirley Lennox, the company's human resources manager. Bell Lumber & Pole is a manufacturer of wooden utility poles.

"We all couldn't do what we do without their excellent connections and service," Kruse said, referring to the Nebraska Diplomats.

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