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Regional Economic Celebration a success

June 2, 2017 GMT

Regional Economic Celebration a success

The Nebraska Diplomats’ first Regional Economic Celebration was arguably a success.

Usually a statewide event held in Lincoln once a year, the Nebraska Diplomats recently decided to move to several regional events — and Thursday’s event in Norfolk was the first of those regional events.

“Typically what we’ve done in the past is had a big passports weekend where everybody comes to Lincoln,” said Jane McDaniel, president of the Nebraska Diplomats. “I just felt like we needed to reach out — instead of having people come to us, I wanted to go to them. We divided ourselves into six events (in) different parts of the state and this is our first. (This was) absolutely fantastic (and) it allows us to let people understand how they really can be a part of economic development in the state of Nebraska.”

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More than 100 business and civic leaders from across the area attended Thursday’s event, including appearances by Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and state economic development director Courtney Dentlinger.

“I think it was a resounding success,” said Norfolk Mayor Josh Moenning. “It was a great gathering of people from communities throughout Northeast Nebraska to talk about shared challenges, but also shared opportunities for growth and regional partnership. I think, all in all, it was great for the city of Norfolk to be able to kick off these series of meetings on behalf of the Nebraska Diplomats.”

Thursday’s event covered several topics related to bettering Nebraska economically, including workforce betterment, workforce housing and regional unity to facilitate economic growth. Topics such as using expanded child care to better a workforce and the use of employer-assisted housing in attracting prospective employees were featured on Thursday’s agenda.

The afternoon events at the Regioal Economic Celebration included an awards ceremony, and several tours around Norfolk, including Nucor Steel, a workforce tour and a housing tour. The celebration also featured a round of golf at the Eldorado Hills Golf Club.

Tom Higginbotham, executive director of the Northeast Nebraska Economic Development District, believed Thursday was not only a win for Norfolk, but for the area and the state as a whole.

“It’s obviously great, bringing all the business partners together, the community development people and the elected officials,” Higginbotham said. “This is just a great opportunity to hear about the needs and what we need to do to grow Northeast Nebraska in particular, with housing and workforce. ... It’s just great to get everybody together. We’re all in this together — collaboration is key and partnership is key to growing our Nebraska communities.”

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Ricketts echoes those beliefs on regional unity, plus the need for partnerships between government and organizations like the Nebraska Diplomats in growing Nebraska.

“It’s a team effort (with) every aspect of government — whether it’s going to be the county, the city, the state, the volunteers through people like the Nebraska Diplomats — all those folks are going to come together to be able to help make it an attractive place for those companies to be able to (come to),” Ricketts said. “Companies pick specific communities, so having a welcoming community is a huge deal to make sure that we’ve got the right people in place to welcome those companies in.”

Among the achievements in growing Nebraska that were touted Thursday was the recent passage of Legislative Bill 518, which creates a grant program to aid developers in creating workforce housing in counties that have less than 100,000 residents.

“That’s important because we’ve had a lot of programs in the government to target low-income housing, but nothing really for that workforce housing,” Ricketts said. “This will help us grow our counties with 100,000 people or less, because that’s where it’s targeted to — to help create that housing stock so they can grow, attract people to their communities and have the right housing to make it attractive for people to move.”

Dentlinger shared the governor’s excitement about LB 518.

“This program’s going to allow us to specifically address the workforce housing shortage,” Dentlinger said. “I’m excited that our agency’s going to be able to lead that.”

Dirk Petersen, the longtime general manager of Nucor Steel in Norfolk and a vocal advocate of adding workforce housing in Norfolk, was pleased with what he heard Thursday.

“Today reminded me, on the housing end, that I think a business community has to be involved with that solution too,” Petersen said. “It’s just not something that you think that the government and the community can just handle — it’s got to be, I think, a partnership working together to get that done.”

Petersen believed that seeing area leaders come together as one was a huge positive for the area and the state as a whole.

“It just shows you that our community and our business leaders really want to do good things for business, especially here in Northeast Nebraska,” Petersen said. “I think the Diplomats are a good driving force to help make that happen and keep this on our radar screen.”

Moenning also believes that Thursday’s convergence of those who want to grow Northeast Nebraska was a great positive.

“I think it helps in being able to share the best practices on addressing some of the existing challenges we have in housing development, in workforce development and talking about regional collaboration,” Moenning said. “Those were the key benefits of this — (that) and looking at opportunities that we have as a region as a whole and understanding that collaboration is very important to all our success moving forward.”

The Nebraska Diplomats are celebrating 50 years of existence this year in working to grow Nebraska and they have played a major part in doing so throughout their existence.

“It’s really hard to overstate their role,” Dentlinger said. “They’ve been around for 50 years and they complement what we do at the state level so well. Economic development’s all about partnerships and it’s all about bringing everyone together to help grow the state.

“The Diplomats are a way that we can engage business leaders and community leaders and get them directly hands-on involved in economic development. They know best why Nebraska’s a great place to do business and they know how amazing their communities and regions are.”