Owen Palm

Owen Palm

SCOTTSBLUFF — It took 16 months of work from 320-plus people across the state, but the recently completed Blueprint Nebraska is ready for implementation.

The document was rolled out Tuesday at a live-streamed online news conference from locations in Omaha, Lincoln and Broken Bow.

“Right now we’re seeing strong economic activity with a lot of workforce participation,” said Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts from the Lincoln site. “This Blueprint Nebraska document is only the beginning because it will be used to guide our future. The document is conceptual, so now we need to take concrete steps to implement it.”

One of the project’s co-chairs is Owen Palm, chief executive officer of 21st Century Holdings. He participated in the online conference from the Adams Land and Cattle Company in Broken Bow.

“We don’t want this to be another report that stays on the shelf,” Palm said. “By Labor Day, we’ll have an implementation team in place that will start working on the top five of the 15 key initiatives identified in the report.”

Some of them include expanding online broadband service to more rural communities, revitalizing community centers and building more housing.

“We also want to re-imagine how the state and counties provide services to the people,” Palm said. “We’re in a digital age, so we need to ask questions on what we can do to be more efficient.”

The top concern identified by respondents to the Blueprint Nebraska survey is revamping the state’s tax structure. That subcommittee is already at work to develop a plan.

“Going hand in hand with revamping the state tax structure is reconfiguring incentives,” Palm said. “We should focus on the key industries identified in the report, specifically manufacturing and agriculture.”

Palm described Blueprint Nebraska as a roadmap to the future. Some of those initiatives will take years to achieve, such as building sufficient housing to attract and retain an expanded workforce.

Starr Lehl, Scottsbluff’s economic development director, watched the conference online and was impressed with the scope of the report.

“The part I liked was trying to make Nebraska a more welcoming state,” Lehl said. “People have different ideas and ways of doing things, but that makes for a more diverse community. It’s too easy to get set in our ways.”

She was also impressed by the involvement of young entrepreneurs and business professionals during the conference.

“They have a positive outlook on Nebraska with a ‘can-do’ attitude,” she said. “They talked about the differences between east and west Nebraska, but wanted to collaborate with both urban and rural communities. There’s a lot of room for that.”

Lehl said rural areas have a lot of the amenities young people are looking for, including safe communities and good schools. It’s just a matter of getting the word out and selling ourselves to a larger audience.

“I like the tenacity and the vision of the group because the rollout of this project is something that will take years,” Lehl said. “Still, the project is more than I thought it would be.”

Two other goals targeted by the Blueprint Nebraska are retaining the state’s workforce and preparing workers and young people for tomorrow’s jobs. Another is to attract new residents in the 18-34 age range.

Keith Ellis, community and economic development director with Twin Cities Development (TCD), said one of their goals is to assure employers are getting the workforce they need, not only for job retention but also for job growth.

“Entrepreneurship is important for us to grow our own businesses in our own area,” Ellis said. “We have a business coaching program in place and are helping about 40 business startups a year.”

Another critical piece of the puzzle is having sufficient workforce housing available. He said that’s a strong point in the Scottsbluff-Gering area, where short-term housing is available for workers relocating to the area.

“We also have a strong, dynamic group of private property owners that are willing to help out with short-term and long-term housing needs,” he said.

Another strong point Ellis mentioned is the area’s ability to develop its own workforce through career academy programs at Scottsbluff and Gering high schools, as well as specialized training at the Harms Center at Western Nebraska Community College.

“I think the Nebraska Blueprint has identified some new opportunities we can pursue,” he said.

The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry will bring the Blueprint Nebraska report to fall forums across the state through October.

The group will be in Scottsbluff on Tuesday, Aug. 13, for a noon lunch at the Scotts Bluff Country Club. Call the Scottsbluff/Gering United Chamber of Commerce at 308-632-2133 for information.

We're always interested in hearing about news in our community. Let us know what's going on!

Jerry Purvis is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at 308-632-9046 or emailed at jpurvis@starherald.com.

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