Omaha aerial

Downtown Omaha on May 8, 2017. 

By 2040, Omaha will have 300,000 more people, public early-childhood schools, multimodal public transportation, an international airport, a minority white population, twice as much per-person economic output, 100,000 career awareness experiences a year for children and a magnetic attraction for creative people.

That’s the “preferred future” for the metropolitan area uncovered in a 10-month process of gathering people’s plans and dreams by the Urban League of Nebraska, the United Way of the Midlands and the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce.

And Preferred Future also is the name of the Omaha chamber’s next five-year plan, which starts in 2019, outlined Tuesday for about 800 people attending the chamber’s annual economic outlook luncheon at the CenturyLink Center.

“It’s ambitious,” said Rebecca Ryan, founder of Next Generation Consulting and a futurist who worked with the civic groups on the 2040 plan.

Flanked by large cardboard “2040” displays, Ryan and chamber Chief Executive David Brown said the look into the future began with interviews, meetings and discussion sessions about what Omaha can be in 2040, distilled into conclusions about its prosperity, people and sense of place.

Then the civic groups worked backward — “backcasting,” Brown said — to decide what steps to take in the coming five years to set the city on course to reach the future it prefers.

By 2024, Brown said, the chamber wants to help the city’s businesses create 10,000 new jobs paying at least an average of $50,000 a year each, plus $3 billion in new investment and 250 new business startups.

Goals for 2040 include a network of culturally diverse neighborhoods, diverse business leadership, increased high school graduation rates, effective education funding, “near-magic innovation,” inspiring public art, enhanced public spaces, groundbreaking philanthropic investments and a region-leading reputation for growth.

As an inspirational city with a vibrant business climate, a creative arts scene, an innovative technology hub and other attractions, Brown and Ryan said, Omaha will latch onto its talented young people and attract others from around the world.

Omaha needs to attract more foreign investment, Brown said, and should go ahead with proposed public transportation projects, including a streetcar route, and should create better jobs for the unemployed and underemployed so that all segments of the city prosper.

They illustrated that future through four hypothetical Omaha residents of 2040:

» Grace, a 2-year-old, is in Omaha because her Korean mother and Texas-born father chose Omaha over working in London and Singapore. Grace’s public school classes focus on interpersonal skills, problem-solving and the arts. She learns reading, science, math, global studies and other subjects at her own pace from an artificial intelligence teacher.

» Randy came to Omaha in 2017 as a “grown-up” in the city’s start-up scene and recently turned 72, the official federal retirement age.

» Nijah is a midcareer African-American who is a public entrepreneur, working in the research and development lab of a public agency in the city. She was attracted to the city in part because of its cultural diversity and reputation for including all sorts of people in decision-making and actions.

» Mateo is a Latino “serial entrepreneur” who formed and sold his first business while in middle school. He is now a member of a startup collaborative group and runs his own venture capital firm.

At the close of the meeting, Ryan challenged those attending to start doing things that will contribute to reaching the community’s goals.

Also Tuesday, the chamber said it earned a five-star accreditation from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the top rating based on policies, organizational procedures and community impact.

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