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Grace
Grace: What did three women do with $10k and tech? Do Space event features new projects

One unicorn built an app. It links female CEOs in certain fields for cross promotions in New York, Los Angeles, Miami and ... Omaha. This unicorn’s name is Carina Glover.

Another unicorn built a website. It connects an invisible stay-at-home workforce to Omaha jobs that let them work remotely. This unicorn’s name is April Goettle.

A third unicorn conducted a study. It asked a big question, a critical question that’s part of a labor shortage confronting the state of Nebraska: Why do women avoid tech or, once there, leave it? Bianca Zongrone Jefferson is the unicorn here.

The unicorns discussed their projects at Do Space on Wednesday, capping six-month-long fellowships.

I’m calling these three women unicorns because that’s basically what a woman is in tech. Rare. Just less than 1 in 4 tech workers in Omaha is a woman. Tech stats in general for women are pretty dismal. Nationally, just $2 of every $100 in venture capital went to startups founded by women. There are FEWER women in tech now than a generation ago.

Plus, Omaha is slipping in an annual ranking of women’s standing in tech fields. (The ranking of cities is based on gender pay gap, income after housing costs, proportion of jobs filled by women and four-year employment growth.) SmartAsset ranked Omaha 18th in 2017, a ranking that spurred some meetings about it. Last year, Omaha fell to 20th. This year, we’re at No. 22, behind Kansas City (No. 7), St. Paul, Minnesota (No. 10) and Denver (No. 15).

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The women-in-tech shortage is not new or unreported. And in Nebraska at least, it is just one part of a bigger labor issue: A massive shortage of tech workers hurting the state’s businesses and future. It’s so bad that some of the state’s top business leaders said in March that the state has “a workforce crisis.”

Government, university and business leaders are working together to try to find solutions. Some of that work, like the Blueprint Nebraska plan released this week, is big picture. A lot of it seems piecemeal, handled in ad hoc code schools, generic cheerleading for science, technology, engineering and math, and newish organizations that aim to provide startup help and venture capital.

Arguably, one element could be the relatively new fellowship program that allowed three women — out of a competitive field of 30 — to bring their ideas to fruition.

Do Space, Omaha’s nonprofit tech library, offered three $10,000 fellowships paid for by a pair of longtime Omaha investors, James and Karen Linder. Dr. James Linder is CEO of Nebraska Medicine. Karen, his wife, is a former cytologist, entrepreneur and author. Both have an interest in tech and like to fund startups.

They funded a similar innovators fellowship through Do Space for educators in 2017. This year, the focus was on promoting women in tech. Unicorns.

ERIN GRACE/THE WORLD-HERALD 

Carina Glover launched an app called HerHeadquarters thanks to a Do Space fellowship.

Glover, an entrepreneur, wondered why it’s so hard to network, especially in the related industries of fashion, beauty, entertainment, events and public relations. So she created an app called HerHeadquarters, which is designed to put users in touch with one another to talk about projects and events that need partners and would benefit from collaboration.

Glover, a 29-year-old Marian High and University of Nebraska at Omaha graduate, is not a programmer or web designer or even someone with a tech background. Her degree is in communications.

“I can’t code to save my life,” she said. “Sometimes, I don’t feel worthy of having the title ‘woman in tech.’ ”

But she’s started a tech product.

A downtown group called the Startup Collaborative helped her flesh out her idea. Then she won the fellowship. HerHeadquarters went live on June 6. She currently has 140 users in all four cities and is fundraising to go national by the end of next year.

ERIN GRACE/THE WORLD-HERALD 

April Goettle is launching a website called remoter.tech to help connect workers with jobs. She was a Do Space fellow.

Goettle, a web designer with a 75-minute commute from her acreage near Lyons, Nebraska, wondered why companies aren’t trying harder to tap rural workers or better connect with a potential workforce that might be more willing to do tech jobs if they don’t have to go into the office.

She was stunned at how hard it seems on Omaha job sites to figure out what places would let people work remotely. So she created a website, remoter.tech. It aims to be a bulletin board of job openings to better connect would-be remote workers with jobs that could be done from home or a coffee shop.

Goettle herself now works remotely thanks to a deal she worked out with her Omaha firm. She does drive into Omaha a couple of times a week for school; the 44-year-old with a music and fine arts background is finishing a computer science degree.

The third unicorn wanted to look at why so many women don’t consider tech, start in a STEM major but switch gears, or leave tech once they get there. And she wanted to know why women stayed.

ERIN GRACE/THE WORLD-HERALD 

Bianca Zongrone Jefferson surveyed women to find out what they think about tech.

Jefferson, 30, started as a math major in college but switched to business and wound up getting a master’s degree in human resources development. When she started a doctoral program, she was struck by smart undergrads having fun building websites and video games. This could be a job?!

She left UNO, got trained in front-end web development and went to work at four different firms before landing at Hudl, a sports analysis company in Lincoln where she works as a senior product designer.

For her project, Jefferson developed a survey and interviewed college students and women in various fields. Among her 20 subjects, these needs emerged: Flextime. Positive workplace culture. And “sponsors,” which Jefferson defined as mentors who “stand up for you and say, ‘I think you’d be really good at this. You should go for this.’ ”

Jefferson said being a unicorn is lonely, difficult and drives women out of the field.

“It’s a difficult feeling knowing that not only are you responsible for making sure other people feel you are competent, but also having to represent your gender at work,” she said.

Her interviews revealed that she wanted to know more. More, for example, about what it’s like to be a woman of color or a transgender woman or a woman doing freelance tech work.

Rebecca Stavick, the executive director of Do Space, said she hopes to run an even bigger survey to answer those questions. She said that attracting and retaining a tech workforce is imperative and that Omaha needs “all hands on deck.”

“If you don’t have techies,” she said, “you don’t have a business community.”

This is partly why Stavick did the fellowship program in the first place. It’s her attempt to boost the tech workforce by boosting women in it. Then unicorns won’t be so rare.

List: The Omaha area's largest employers

Articles
Trump signs agreement with EU to boost beef exports

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump celebrated a new agreement Friday that is projected to increase beef exports to the European Union by more than $270 million a year once it is fully in place.

Trump portrayed the agreement as standing up for farmers and ranchers.

Producers have been hurt by retaliatory tariffs that China imposed after Trump levied 25% tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese products.

The signing of the agreement comes a day after Trump increased pressure on China to reach a trade deal by saying he will impose 10% tariffs Sept. 1 on the remaining $300 billion in Chinese imports he hasn't already taxed.

The European Commission announced in June that it had reached an agreement with the U.S. to allow more hormone-free U.S. beef into the European market. The trade deal lets the U.S. export 35,000 tons of hormone-free beef to the EU per year.

The EU continues to impose bans and restrictions on meat produced using hormones.

Bloomberg reported that the Trump administration in June secured more access to the EU's beef market after the bloc persuaded Australia, Argentina and Uruguay to gradually cede chunks of the import quota. U.S. ranchers will be entitled to almost 80% of the annual EU quota on hormone-free beef by the seventh year of the agreement, with an initial allocation of about 40%, European officials said in June.

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., a cattle rancher and a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, praised the agreement.

"Nebraskans produce some of the most high-quality and delicious beef there is, and this deal marks another opportunity for our families, communities, and businesses," she said in a statement. "I look forward to continuing to work with this administration on opening more markets for our state's hardworking ag producers."

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts also praised the deal in a statement, saying it "presents a major growth opportunity for our state.''

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said he hoped that the EU would approve the agreement quickly.

The EU has been concerned about the prospect that Trump will slap tariffs on foreign-made cars and parts.

In May, Trump said imports of foreign cars and parts were harming the American auto industry and threatening national security, but he delayed for six months any decision on applying tariffs as a remedy.

Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday that "auto tariffs are never off the table."

"The EU has tremendous barriers to us, but we just broke the first barrier," he said. "And maybe we broke it because of the fact that if I don't get what we want, I put on auto tariffs. Because it's all about the automobile, and it's all about the tariffs."

Earlier, he joked to the EU trade delegation that he was poised to impose crippling tariffs on German cars, including Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs. "I'm only kidding," he quickly added.

This report includes material from Bloomberg.


Crime
No charges have been filed in arson case 10 months after dry cleaner explosion

The dust has long settled on the rubble of what used to be Wardrobe Spa, a dry-cleaning business near 168th and Harrison Streets.

The skeleton of the brick building that exploded and caught fire in October still stands, covering a jumble of scrap metal, building materials and broken appliances.

Almost 10 months have passed since the State Fire Marshal’s Office determined that arson was the cause of the damage — which was estimated at at least $350,000. Yet the investigation continues, and no charges have been filed in connection with the explosion, according to authorities.

In response to emailed questions about the length of the investigation and potential criminal conduct, Alyssa Sanders, a deputy state fire marshal and a spokeswoman for the office, said recently that the investigation is ongoing and that no new details could be released.

Upon completion of the investigation, the Sarpy County Attorney’s Office would be responsible for bringing potential charges.

“We hope to have a report from (the Fire Marshal’s Office) in August and review it for any potential crimes,” Deputy Sarpy County Attorney Ben Perlman said. “Right now, we don’t want to prejudge anything until their report’s complete.”

Witnesses encountered Wardrobe Spa’s owner, Michael McKernan, outside the building after the explosion. He appeared shaken and told them that he was trimming bushes when the explosion occurred.

In the days after the explosion, McKernan reported two crimes against him, one involving a home invasion and another involving vandalism at his storage unit. Police have said there was no evidence of either.

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Another law enforcement agency is waiting for the arson and insurance fraud investigations involving Wardrobe Spa to wrap up before it continues with a misdemeanor case involving McKernan and the alleged home invasion.

In a phone call with The World-Herald this week, McKernan answered “yes” when asked if he has been actively working with law enforcement.

The damaged building and debris won’t be removed until the completion of the fire marshal’s investigation.

The investigation must also be completed before McKernan’s insurance company moves forward on his claim.

No one was injured in the explosion and subsequent fire, which occurred just before noon on Oct. 7 at 16869 Audrey St. The building was consumed by flames and eventually collapsed.

Investigators at the time found evidence of tampering with the natural gas system. The investigation determined that the cause of the explosion was not related to the utility operator, Metropolitan Utilities District.

Two days after the blast, McKernan reported damage in his unit at a rental storage facility near 300th Street and West Reichmuth Road. There was writing on a wall in black marker: “Spa No Mas Rebild No Optshun.”

Chief Deputy Douglas County Sheriff Tom Wheeler said in October that nothing appeared to be missing from the unit and that there were “some inconsistencies” with the scene and McKernan’s statements.

CHRIS MACHIAN/THE WORLD-HERALD 

A shirt remains inside of Wardrobe Spa located at 16869 Audrey St. remains after an explosion in October, 2018 leveled most of the building, photographed on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. The front doors were blown out.

Four days after the explosion, McKernan called authorities to report that he had encountered three Hispanic men at his Ginger Cove home who allegedly forced him at gunpoint to tie himself to a pole.

Valley Police Chief Brett Smith has said that only three parts of the burglary story were true: that McKernan called 911, that he placed the call at 1:11 a.m. and that McKernan told police that he tied himself to the pole.

“Everything else is bull****,” Smith said in October. “Everything that we have does not add up to what he’s telling us.”

Smith said his department expects to move forward with a misdemeanor false reporting citation in connection with the alleged break-in.

The statute of limitations for misdemeanors is 18 months, according to state law.

As of now, Omaha City Prosecutor Matthew Kuhse said there’s no movement in his office in regard to potential false reporting charges.

He said McKernan is listed as a victim of criminal mischief in relation to the report of storage unit vandalism to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.

But the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office deemed that report “unfounded” and closed the case a few days after.

Lt. William Rinn said a detective challenged McKernan about his assertions that someone foreign-born committed the burglary, based on the writing on the wall with incorrect English grammar and spelling. Then McKernan made the home invasion report, and the Douglas County detective went to interview him with a Valley police detective. McKernan then asked for an attorney.

“Even though he’s reporting as a victim, he didn’t want to answer any difficult questions based on that,” Rinn said in a July interview. “We don’t believe anything happened, so we didn’t really do any more follow-up work after it was reported.”

Rinn said that a false reporting citation could be possible but that those cases are hard to prove unless the person admits that they lied.

“Even though it looks fishy and is fishy, it has to be clear and convincing that it’s a false report,” Rinn said. “That typically requires a person to afterward admit that it was not true or an overwhelming amount of evidence proving that it wasn’t true.”

Notable crime news of 2019

Articles
As tigers proliferate in America, regulating big cats is a big task

Joseph Passage, rangy and tattooed with a blond mullet, called himself the "Tiger King" and "one of the world's experts in tigers." He was better known as "Joe Exotic."

Over two decades, the zookeeper had built a menagerie on a 16acre spread off the Interstate in Oklahoma.

It housed baboons, wolves, a camel trained to "kiss" visitors and many, many tigers — as many as 200, he claimed.

Gregarious and charming, Passage had an irresistible attraction for travelers coming up the highway: tiger cubs, playthings that padded on oversize paws among marveling visitors who paid to stroke their dense fur.

To meet the demand, Passage became one of the nation's top suppliers of tiger cubs to individuals and private zoos like his own. Some critics accused him of cruel exploitation, viewing themselves as tiger saviors.

One made him mad enough to consider murder, prosecutors would later say.

On a chilly day in December 2017, Passage met with two other men, one of whom was willing to kill Passage's nemesis for $10,000. How would he get the money?

"I'll just sell a bunch of tigers," he said, according to an undercover recording by an FBI informant.

Passage's story provides insight into how captive tigers have proliferated throughout America, to the point that there now may be more in this country than in the wild.

The use of an iconic symbol of wildness as a sideshow has helped fuel this growth. The big cats have been subject to gradually tightened regulation, but they are still bred and tradedwith only patchy oversight.

In the Asian forests and savannas that are their natural habitat, wild tiger populations have plunged, leaving fewer than 4,000 of the majestic creatures slinking toward extinction.

In the U.S., all tigers are labeled endangered species.

But because most of the animals are crossbred "generic" variants of wild tigers and considered irrelevant to conservation, the government has been slow to get involved.

A case against Passage, 56, was its first major attempt to crack down. Last year, he was indicted by federal prosecutors on two murder-for-hire charges and 19 wildlife violations, encompassing several illegal tiger cub sales and the killings of five adult tigers. He was convicted in April on all of the charges except for two of the wildlife counts.

The trial was a highly unusual federal prosecution of endangered species violations involving captive animals, and it exposed basic gaps in oversight. It also forced into a courtroom one of most contentious battles in U.S. animal circles: the fight over how many tigers live in America, who should have them and how they should be treated.

At the heart of the tiger battle is the cub-petting that Joe Exotic's business relied on. An analysis by New York University researchers identified 77 facilities offering public contact with baby animals in late 2015 and early 2016, mostly big cat cubs. These allow visitors to pet or bottle-feed the animals.

Although it means removing cubs from their mothers shortly after birth and has sometimes resulted in injuries to customers and cats, the practice is legal. But the U.S. Agriculture Department says only cubs between the ages of 4 weeks (no longer "neonatal") and 12 weeks (when they become "too big, too fast, and too strong") should be used. That creates an incentive, critics say, for breeders such as Passage to pump out cubs. It also creates a constant supply of 100-day-old tigers that have outgrown their value.

"This is the big mystery," said Carney Anne Nasser, a Michigan State University law professor who has written about holes in tiger monitoring. "Where do they go?"

Between 2013 and 2018, Oklahoma veterinary records show, the zoo Passage founded shipped more than 100 tigers as young as 1 week old out of state. Cubs could go for as much as $5,000. Dozens were sent to private zookeepers and animal owners in Florida, Indiana, Colorado and beyond. The reach of Joe Exotic was nationwide. In 2012, according to federal records, he sold eight juvenile tigers to the owner of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for an unknown sum. In 2015, he obtained an export permit to ship a lion-tiger hybrid to the United Arab Emirates, a Fish and Wildlife agent testified in March.

In April, one tiger born at Joe Ecotic's zoo, 400-pound Kryxis, lay bellydown on an operating table in a cement-floored Indiana garage outfitted as a veterinary clinic. The cat was having surgery for a congenital eye defect.

His journey to the facility, the Exotic Feline Rescue Center, started after a private owner near Houston gave him up to a rescue network founded by a former Wall Street executive who now dedicates his life to tigers. So far, he has relocated more than 250 tigers from private owners and collapsed zoos to sanctuaries.

Many of those tigers began their lives as coddled tourist draws — adorable miniatures of an exalted wild animal. They ended up as massive predators destined for a life behind fences, neither fully wild nor fully domesticated.

"The commercial life of a tiger cub is 100 days," said Bill Nimmo, the network's founder. "The problem is uncontrolled, no-limit breeding."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency that regulates the wildlife trade, added tigers to the endangered species list in 1970. In 2003, Congress passed a law that prohibited interstate sales and the transport of big cats as pets.

But Fish and Wildlife did not police the domestic exchange of most captive-bred tigers until 2016 because they were considered mongrels with no conservation value. Today, it is illegal to sell any tiger across state lines without a permit from the agency.

The USDA, which enforces federal animal welfare laws, requires sites open to the public, such as Passage's, to be licensed and periodically inspected. Any other rules are left up to states.

And for a long time, many states did not concern themselves with tigers.

Today, dangerous wild animals that are privately held and not traded across state lines remain entirely unregulated in four states and only lightly regulated in most others. Nebraska and Iowa ban ownership of big cats, according to the charity Born Free USA. Laws are unevenly enforced and replete with exemptions.

In recent years, several states have banned or restricted such pets after attacks or escapes; Ohio, once known as an exotic animal hotbed, did so after a Zanesville man named Terry Thompson let loose his 56 animals, including 18 tigers, before killing himself in 2011.

Most tigers are now believed to reside in a vast array of zoos, menageries, sanctuaries and refuges — terms for which there are no agreed-upon definitions.

Themishmash of laws and spotty monitoring have led to wildly divergent population estimates for captive tigers in the U.S.

The Fish and Wildlife Service says the total "likely exceeds the numbers found in the wild." The Humane Society of the United States estimates that there are 5,000 to 7,000 caged tigers in this country. In 2016, the Feline Conservation Federation, which advocates for private ownership, estimated 2,330 tigers.

The reality is that no one knows howmany tigers reside in theU.S. As Passage's trial revealed, tigers can easily exist off the books.

"To be clear, I don't care" about the true number, said Nimmo, whose organization, Tigers in America, puts the population at 7,000. "Because if we're talking about how many thousands of tigers are outside the zoo system, why are there even 10?"