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Five Things I Learned at NEDA

This past week I spent my time in Grand Island attending the Nebraska Economic Developers Association Spring conference. I participated as a member of the board of directors, as an attendee and also as a bit-part presenter for a conference pre-session on social media. Kristina, our Business Development and Marketing Specialist, attended as well.

NEDA is an incredibly fantastic organization of dynamic people that are contributing to the betterment of Nebraska in a big way. Not only are our members economic developers or have the economic growth of Nebraska in mind, but they’re also critical players in helping set the policy agenda for pro-growth in Nebraska.

I learned a tremendous amount in my time at the conference this week, but five things really stick out, with three of them pertaining to the Talent and Innovation Initiative (you can read up on the legislation here).

Governor Heineman recently signed the TI2 (as we call it) into law this past month, a product of serious heavy lifting by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Governor, various state senators and too many economic development professionals to name. The result in part are new incentives for rural businesses to create jobs and investment in places like the Ord area.

First, one very exciting program coming out of TI2 is Innovation in Ag program. While details are emerging about program guidelines, there will be incentives for ON-FARM innovation in our rural places. Think unique biofuels solutions, specialty products and crops, and a heckuva lot more. As those guidelines emerge, we’ll be working aggressively to get the information to our local producers. This is quite similar to the Value-Added Ag program with a specific on-farm innovation focus.

The second TI2 initiative that looks quite promising for the Ord area is the Nebraska Internship Program (or called Intern Nebraska). We’ve blogged on this before; the program is now live as of June 1 and you can begin interfacing with the state on this program on Facebook here. The website should go live as of July 1, but in the meantime, check out the details here. The program provides a 1:1 match for qualified internships in qualifying businesses. If you are interested in hiring an intern and utilizing this program, please contact us at the economic development offices and we’ll connect you up. EDIT: Our friends at DED have corrected us – the InternNE project does not require a 1:1 match,. It is 60% if distressed and 40% if non-distressed, up to $5,000 per job or $3,500 (non-distressed).

Third among the TI2 legislation working its way into new economic development incentives are funds for research and development of new products. The seed monies (grants) are available for prototyping inventions and taking products to market. I know of a lot of local innovators and think this has the potential to create an explosion of new entrepreneurs in rural places. We’ll have plenty more on this piece as details emerge as well.

Fourthly, Kristina and I had a chance to sit-in on a presentation from folks at RDg, a planning and design firm from Omaha that specializes in small town downtown revitalization. One aspect that we are very interested in following up with is how we can kick-start a Phase 2 downtown plan that focuses on one critically missing piece for our central business district: housing. Very few people actually LIVE in downtown Ord. I can hear a sucking sound at 5p as the mass exodus of professionals leave for home. We need to figure out how we anchor potential economic growth in downtown after 5p; we both felt housing is one of the first steps in doing so, especially lofts and condos. The current renovations and business expansions are also a big part of that. Expect to see/hear a call for a new downtown Ord task force in the next few months – and expect to see some major action as a result.

Finally, Alabama comedian Vic Henley (by way of New York City) is really, really funny. He’s been on Comedy Central and has opened for Ron White. We had a chance to see him last night perform and his gig is hilarious. Think we can bring him to Ord for a night at the newly renovated theater? We’ll see what Brian and Kelly think!

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