Blueprint Nebraska

Lance Fritz, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Union Pacific, discusses economic development challenges and opportunities at a February 2018 town hall meeting for Blueprint Nebraska at the Scott Conference Center in Omaha. The planners held more than 60 such events around the state.

Nebraska by 2030 should make itself a top 3 state to live in, add 25,000 more jobs, attract 43,000 young adults and increase per capita annual income by $15,000.

Those are among the goals set by Blueprint Nebraska, a 14-month effort to tackle the state’s challenges and improve the lives of people across the state.

“You start with the vision taking the ‘The Good Life’ in Nebraska and making it even better,” said Lance Fritz, chairman, president and CEO of Union Pacific Railroad and co-chairman of Blueprint Nebraska. “It’s about creating strong communities that are economically strong, vibrant, growing and a place where our young people want to stay because we’ve got the high-tech and high-value jobs they desire.”

To get there, the report released Tuesday says, Nebraska needs to realign the state’s tax structure toward making the state more competitive, promote diversity and inclusion, launch a “Choose Nebraska” campaign to attract young workers, increase collaboration between business and education, and promote formation of a high-tech business “cluster” that promotes entrepreneurship and innovation.

The Blueprint Nebraska report is the product of a group of business and community leaders who spent 14 months traveling the state, listening to 7,000 people and studying the state’s economy, seeking to develop an economic road map for where the state needs to go by the year 2030. Blueprint was launched in 2018 by Gov. Pete Ricketts and Hank Bounds, president of the University of Nebraska.

The final Blueprint report is some 100 pages long, but there’s a 10-page summary, too. Leaders encouraged Nebraskans to visit the Blueprint website, blueprint-nebraska.org, to read more.

When Blueprint Nebraska leaders took stock of the state’s economy, compared Nebraska with peer states and looked into the future, they found some concerning things.

The state is losing people to other states, the well-known “brain drain” the state has battled for decades.

They found Nebraska lagged in research and development spending, which is critical to helping to create the high-tech companies and jobs of the future.

And they also found that Nebraska’s workforce is not as statistically productive as those in competing states.

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Fritz said everyone on the steering committee was initially shocked and baffled by the last one, because they all knew how hard Nebraskans work. The state has long had one of the nation’s highest labor force participation rates.

“We love the labor force here in Nebraska,” Fritz said. “We have grit, we stick to things, we show up for work, we give it 100%.”

The problem, the study found, is that Nebraska is producing lower-value products, which then generate less economic gain from all the state’s hard work. Nebraska needs to work to transform its economy and compete to produce more of the value-added products and services that will generate more income.

The study found Nebraska has some critical strengths to build on.

Along with its strong workforce, Nebraska has some of the nation’s most productive agricultural land and a strong presence in many other industries, including financial technology, insurance, medicine, transportation and construction and engineering.

And it’s in the geographic center of the country, a two-day drive from either coast, which should make it the nation’s transportation and logistical hub.

In the end, the study identified 60 potential initiatives that will help the state meet the stated goals for job and income growth and improved quality of life, including 15 initiatives given highest priority.

As the Blueprint plan was rolled out in Omaha, Lincoln and Broken Bow on Tuesday, the importance of embracing diversity was a frequently discussed goal. Each rollout location included a young professional who spoke of the importance of inclusion to the people in their generation.

“They’re only going to come here if they feel welcome,” said Kayla Meyer, leader of Lincoln’s young professionals organization. “I look forward to the state of Nebraska stepping up and being a true welcoming neighbor, no matter what race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or handicap.”

Fritz said though diversity can be politicized, he thinks it also fits with the state’s “Nebraska nice” nature. And as a business leader who is looking for the best and brightest workers, that means “every population demographic that we can get our hands on,” he said.

“I think people are starting to wake up to that a little more,” he said. “It’s a no-brainer.”

The report includes no estimate of the cost to implement the plan or how it would be paid for. It’s considered likely there will be both public and private investments. And the plan will be pushed forward “with an emphasis on remaining fiscally responsible, a trait that has served as both an asset and advantage to the Cornhusker State,” the report says.

Blueprint’s 15 priority initiatives are focused in four areas: people, places, government and industry.

For people, for example, the report urges Nebraska to:

  • Create more internships and apprenticeships to match young Nebraskans with the needs of expanding and locating businesses. The goal is to have more such opportunities than any other state in the Midwest.
  • Revolutionize education from early childhood to career, with goals of making Nebraska a leader in lifelong learning and preparing people for the jobs of the future. The initiative would involve fostering more cooperation between education and business and strengthening support for education, including child care.
  • Expand efforts to promote diversity and inclusion to make Nebraska “the most welcoming state in the Midwest.” Such efforts would involve community exchange programs and leadership programs promoting the importance of diversity and inclusion and making sure the state has the workers it needs.
  • Launch a “Choose Nebraska” campaign aimed at attracting 18- to 34-year-olds. It would involve creating incentives and cultural opportunities attractive to young people and promoting Nebraska in recruiting campaigns launched in identified markets.

The effort was patterned after a Blueprint Mississippi project, of which Bounds was chairman when he served as commissioner of higher education before moving to Nebraska. Bounds said that project generated thousands of high-paying, long-lasting jobs.

Now the leaders of Blueprint Nebraska want to broaden the effort further with more volunteers and partners from across the state as they seek to implement the priority strategies. Bryan Slone of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry vowed this will be one report that won’t sit on a shelf.

“This will get done and be a difference maker,” he said.

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Reporter - Metro News

Henry is a general assignment reporter, but his specialty is deep dives into state issues and public policy. He's also into the numbers behind a story, yet to meet a spreadsheet he didn't like. Follow him on Twitter @HenryCordes. Phone: 402-444-1130.

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