If the Omaha area is going to maximize its economic potential for all its citizens, it needs to understand its central challenges and address them. Consider local transportation needs.

Trips around the Omaha area take 14% longer than they would without congestion, according to analysis by TomTom International BV, which builds location technology. Omaha’s evening rush hour, in particular, takes 33% longer than it should, TomTom concluded. And Omaha travel times continue to lengthen.

In contrast, The World-Herald’s Jeffrey Robb reports, the year-to-year traffic congestion dropped or held steady in 50 other U.S. cities. That list includes cities such as Austin, Nashville, Salt Lake City and Raleigh that the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce cites as aspirational targets for Omaha.

Long-range transportation planning is one of the central issues the chamber rightly includes in its Prosper 2.0 initiative, aiming to promote our area’s economic development in today’s highly competitive environment.

The initiative targets key goals. Omaha needs to nurture an inclusive environment to develop and retain a diverse workforce. It’s crucial, too, that Omaha become more competitive in creating high-paying jobs, a category in which it lags considerably behind that set of aspirational cities. The goal: attracting 10,000 jobs paying $50,000 and above.

Prosper 2.0 appropriately emphasizes the need to boost the creation of startup companies (the goal: 250 new such businesses) and train 10,000 tech workers.

Among the tools to address these needs: Adoption of inclusive hiring and promotion practices. Stepped-up business recruitment efforts. Continued cooperation among business, labor and educational institutions on worker training. And regional transportation planning, along with strategic focus on improved mass transportation and biking and walking options.

Such forward-looking, cooperative approaches are the Omaha area’s best path ahead in boosting economic competitiveness and our quality of life.

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