As Director of the Department of Economic Development, I was appointed by Governor Ricketts in 2019 to lead initiatives to grow our state’s economy. This means working to create opportunities for our citizens — whether that’s supporting entrepreneurs and small business owners, recruiting tech and manufacturing jobs, or growing our international trade footprint. But it also means addressing challenges like the workforce housing shortage, skilled labor needs, and our continued economic recovery from the pandemic, with its impact on local businesses and families.
Where do we stand today? Due to our efforts as a state, Nebraska is emerging from the pandemic with one of the strongest economies in the nation. In August, our unemployment rate hit 2.2 percent — an all-time, record low. Meanwhile, thousands of jobs in skilled positions like tech, manufacturing and health care are available to be filled. Overall, our businesses and industries — though saddled with losses and setbacks just like the rest of the country — have shown their resilience, and are rebounding swiftly. The future is bright.
These resilient outcomes reflect the strong backbone that defines our communities and our economy. For example, jobs in agriculture, manufacturing, and technology, which are abundant in Nebraska, are generally less susceptible to economic downturns; this explains why we fared better than most states during the past three recessions. Just as importantly, Nebraska’s small businesses displayed their ability to adapt to trying circumstances, with local patrons eagerly showing their support: stories of small-town Facebook groups dedicated to keeping Main Street alive abounded during the pandemic’s darkest days, proof of the community spirit that binds us together as fellow Nebraskans.
In Nebraska, relationships matter. Kindness matters. Trust matters. People treat each other like neighbors. This explains why, at the height of the pandemic, we were the number one state in the nation for small business access to SBA disaster loans and funding from the Paycheck Protection Program; tight-knit relationships between local bankers and business owners, combined with swift action by community leaders, allowed us to quickly pump around $4 billion in liquidity into small businesses in need of support. We did this faster and more efficiently than any other state in the U.S., and the impacts are still being felt today.
This same connectedness was essential as my Department and staff proudly worked side-by-side with our fellow agencies in State Government — supported by local leaders across Nebraska — to develop, launch and promote a portfolio of grants that supplied over $413 million in federal CARES dollars to assist struggling small businesses and Nebraska industries. As a result of this monumental effort, we were ultimately able to send desperately needed relief to over 25,000 establishments, from Main Street small businesses to livestock producers, bars and restaurants, personal service providers, movie theaters, zoos and more. This is an achievement that could not have been carried out without the incredible amount of teamwork and dedication that was displayed.
Finally, I believe in an economic future built on technology. Nebraska’s rapidly growing tech industry and climate of innovation has been another key component in our resilience and recovery. From meat packing facilities and manufacturing plants that use the latest in human-guided robotics, to restaurants and other establishments that were able to pivot on a dime to online business models, technology has been a primary driver of adaptation and growth in our state. One of my personal goals for the Department is to continue to maximize the growth of Nebraska’s tech industry; we are thrilled to be working alongside Governor Ricketts to pursue the delivery of high-speed broadband access to every household, urban and rural, while we continue to recruit and grow high-tech jobs that will create great opportunities for our workforce of tomorrow.
Now, in 2021, our two-year focus on stabilization and recovery is finally becoming a focus on the future, when we will pursue promising avenues of opportunity for an even brighter tomorrow. My Department has set goals for 2021 and beyond that focus on mission-critical priorities such as supporting local business expansion; growing Nebraska agriculture; fostering local entrepreneurship and innovation; working with the community college system to address workforce talent needs, such as STEM and the skilled trades; promoting our state both domestically and abroad; addressing the workforce housing shortage; expanding high-speed broadband; and so much more. Through it all, we seek to foster a climate of economic opportunity where every individual, every family, has a chance to succeed.
Here in Nebraska, we all wear the same jersey. It is in that spirit that we must continue to work together, as a team, to make the good life in our state ever greater.
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