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Why We Support LB 850

Tomorrow, the Revenue Committee will be hearing testimony on legislative bill 850, an effort spearheaded by four rural senators concerned about the future of rural Nebraska. You can read about LB850 here. The bill proposes a tax credit of up to $1,500/year for 5 years for those that qualify and move to a rural county with 5% or greater population decline between 2000-2010.

Last night, the Ord Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors voted to support LB850. The bill represents a significant step forward in addressing a two-headed monster that is rural workforce shortages exacerbated by population decline. You can read my testimony below; Chamber Board President Heather Sikyta will be joining me as we fight for rural Nebraska.

What do you think? Is this a good step to address population decline? Feel free to leave your comments below. ~ Caleb

Before the Revenue, Supporting LB850

Madam Chair and members of the Revenue Committee, my name is Caleb Pollard, Executive Director of Valley County Economic Development and the Ord Area Chamber of Commerce.

As Director of the Ord Area Chamber of Commerce, I represent the business interests of 200 rural businesses IN SUPPORT of LB850. I also represent 350 professional economic developers from the Nebraska Economic Developers Association in support of this bill.

Population decline is the primary economic threat to rural Nebraska. This threat also constitutes a major liability for our metropolitan communities: curiously, much of the growth of Lincoln and Omaha has much to do with rural IN-migration to the metro. Yet surprisingly, we Nebraskans have never taken a substantive policy step forward in addressing this issue directly.

LB 850 presents us that opportunity.

1920 was the peak population year for Valley County. We continue to see precipitous population decline exacerbate historically low unemployment in our area. Local resources alone cannot staunch the flow of graduates to post-secondary opportunities, nor are they enough when we proceed to recruit them home. We need assistance that is bold, new and creative to address a very real economic constraint in rural Nebraska.

While we compete with the world for economic growth and development, the vast majority of economic development work we do is not definable as a “project” with employment or investment impact. A great deal of my time is spent finding workers that are plumbers, electricians, welders, agronomists, nurses, pharmacists, diesel mechanics and biofuel lab technicians. These are good jobs that pay a good wage.

In Valley County, we’re faced with historic workforce shortages. Simply put, we need people. With a 3.4% unemployment rate, we cannot grow our local economy (and by default Nebraska’s economy) unless we have more workers. I also ask that you look carefully at not just counties with 5% loss or more, but ALL rural counties suffering population loss. All of rural Nebraska suffers the same workforce shortages. NEDA asks that you please consider how we can help ALL of rural Nebraska be more competitive in the global economy.

Finally, I want to leave you with this clairvoyant message from KC Belitz, Columbus Nebraska Chamber executive. Published just yesterday in the Daily Yonder, an online rural advocacy publication, KC urges readers to look deeply at the jobs disparity nationwide:

“At the same time, the media report on tent cities going up around the nation as people who can’t find work lose their homes. The national unemployment sits at 8.5%, there are 5.6-million long-term unemployed in the U.S., and 8.1-million people are working part-time because they can’t find full-time employment.

How can this be? Why aren’t they coming to Columbus or some other towns on the Great Plains that are begging for workers?”

I ask you: why are they NOT coming? What barriers exist that are preventing that migration? We saw that same mobility vacate the Great Plains in the 1930’s. Are pre-2008 financial burdens preventing mobility to places where there are jobs? Absolutely! The time is now: bring those workers BACK to Nebraska where good jobs are plentiful.

Yet, we have very few resources to do what has been needed for ten years: recruit workers back to Nebraska for viable jobs. Good jobs. You don’t address workforce shortages with Nebraska Advantage. A rural tax credit proposed in LB850 does that. You can tackle both workforce challenges and population decline by helping make rural Nebraska more competitive.

On behalf of 200 Central Nebraska businesses and 350 Nebraska economic development professionals, please support this bill. Thank you and thank you for your time.

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