Blueprint Nebraska (copy) (copy)

Union Pacific Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Lance Fritz discusses economic development challenges and opportunities at a town hall meeting for Blueprint Nebraska at the Scott Conference Center in Omaha.

Nebraska, like all states, should strive to be competitive and provide opportunity to its citizens. A new initiative called Blueprint Nebraska identifies the state’s challenges and recommends strategies to address them.

Whether the initiative achieves success in the years ahead depends on many factors, but the project’s call for Nebraska to be forward-looking, collaborative and energetic is spot-on. We live in a competitive, ever-changing world, and Nebraska must step beyond the status quo if it’s going to meet future needs. Blueprint Nebraska correctly concludes that strong leadership, institutional cooperation and sound strategic planning can combine to lift our state to a higher level.

Such an approach has significant potential to achieve progress on statewide needs. Among them: strengthening workforce development; nurturing high-value economic sectors; attracting and retaining more young people; meeting the need for affordable housing; promoting inclusive workplaces; and bolstering community vitality.

It’s encouraging that Nebraskans from across the state participated in such large numbers over 14 months in the Blueprint Nebraska process. In all, more than 7,000 Nebraskans contributed, and leaders in business, education and local government served on committees coordinating the discussions. That broad-based approach promotes needed buy-in and facilitates networking for future progress.

Then-University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds launched the initiative in early 2018, with close support from Gov. Pete Ricketts. If Blueprint Nebraska is to move forward, it’s imperative that Ricketts and his successor as governor provide needed leadership in coming years, with sustained participation by Nebraskans in business, education, nonprofits and local government.

Collaboration by a broad range of Nebraskans will be vital in addressing longstanding challenges highlighted in the Blueprint Nebraska report, such as meeting rural broadband needs and strengthening the local venture capital network.

On economic development, the new report points out significant shortcomings. Nebraska is in the bottom 10 states when it comes to business startups, the number of STEM graduates and venture capital as a percent of economic output. The state ranks 36th in business R&D and 35th in patents per capita.

To compete nationally and spur robust economic growth, the report says, Nebraska should nurture industry sectors that generate high-value goods and services. Such sectors spur strong growth and economic output. The good news is that Nebraska has important economic advantages on which to build — in agri-business; advanced medical technology; finance and insurance; and transportation and logistics technologies.

Among the report’s recommendations on high-value agriculture: creation of three agri-business campuses; investment in research and development; and improved telecom connectivity. Such ambitious action will require strong leadership, public-private partnerships and long-term focus.

The release of the Blueprint Nebraska report last week rightly involved participation by a range of young Nebraska professionals. Nebraska needs welcoming communities and work cultures that connect with young people, they emphasized.

Young workers are “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.”

Sending a signal of welcoming, embracing innovation, working in collaboration — those will be key ingredients if Nebraskans are to succeed in achieving the stronger future described by Blueprint Nebraska.

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