Local grad to head state chamber

April 20, 2018 GMT

LINCOLN — For the first time in 19 years, the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry has a new president. And he grew up in Gering.

Bryan Slone, a 1975 Gering High School graduate, takes over leadership of the state chamber from Barry Kennedy, who retired from 32 years with the chamber and 19 years as president.

After high school, Slone attended college and law school at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

After graduation, he quickly became tax counsel for then-Congressman Hal Daub on the House Ways and Means Committee in Washington D.C. During that time, he helped shape the 1986 Tax Reform Act.

That was followed by an appointment as assistant to the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, serving as a congressional liaison to implement the new tax laws.

As an attorney and certified public accountant, Slone has private sector experience as a tax attorney and made an unsuccessful run for Nebraska governor in 2014.

“I tried to retire after that, but my wife told me I couldn’t,” Slone said. “That was a good thing because I’m not very good at retiring. I was practicing law and teaching at the university when the chamber position came up.”

Slone said the ag economy is always cyclical, so the state must always focus on trade and regulatory burdens. A big part of that is encouraging trade of ag commodities and opening new markets.

He added that the challenge for Nebraska is actually an opportunity.

“I’ve lived lots of places and this is the best quality of life there is. I always remind my wife that Scottsbluff is as good as it gets. We need to be able to sell that.”

He pointed out two major limiting factors that Nebraska needs to address. One is its tax structure, which he feels is antiquated and not competitive.

Slone said the state’s tax structure needs a complete overhaul, from income to sales to property taxes. The way to provide relief is either through economic growth or more efficiency in spending.

The second factor is in the area of workforce development so those who create new businesses or expand existing ones have the workforce they need to grow.

“Education fits in with workforce,” Slone said. “We have terrific educational institutions, but we need to be laser-focused on how we continue tying those opportunities to job opportunities in Nebraska once they graduate.”

He said state education needs to always look at using the latest technology to deliver schooling in a more efficient and cost-effective manner.

While there will always be classroom work, he said adding online education actually creates better results.

Another part of the answer is in career academies, where high school students are exposed to a variety of potential career options, not just college preparation.

“Who we’re trying to attract to Nebraska isn’t just people with advanced or four-year degrees,” Slone said. “A lot of the technology and trades jobs are in very high demand, so we need to connect with every student so they can do well with a career in Nebraska.”

Slone wants to see the state chamber continue working with their local counterparts and build the needed consensus around big policy issues, whether it’s taxes or workforce development.

“Quality of life is something the next generation values,” he said. “I think Nebraska is in a sweet spot for that. Technology makes it possible for people to create businesses anywhere in the world. You can start a business from western Nebraska that has national and global consequences.”