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From Site Selection magazine, November 2021

Strongest Job Recovery Market Resides In Nebraska

Rebounding from the pandemic, the Cornhusker State flexes its muscle.

The state capitol building in Lincoln, Nebraska
Photo: Getty Images

by Ron Starner

While much of the U.S. continues to experience the economic aftershocks of a recession brought on by a global pandemic, Nebraska is close to firing on all cylinders.

Two recent studies bear that out. The Creighton University Rural Mainstreet Index reported last month that overall economic conditions in Nebraska remained above what is considered growth neutral. Creighton Professor Ernie Goss, who heads up the survey, noted that while a labor shortage is limiting growth in most of the U.S., it is not constraining Nebraska.

“What we are seeing in Nebraska is a very strong labor economy,” says Goss. “What we have seen, actually, is the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, and that’s also true in the rural areas of the state.”

Bolstering that point is a rural nonfarm employment expansion of 4.5% over the last 12 months. Rising commodity prices are fostering growth in rural communities, Goss notes, adding that farmland prices are also hitting a record high.

The Creighton study comes just a few months after The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City released a report showing that the Nebraska economy had outperformed that of many other states and the nation as a whole. The job market was much quicker to recover in Nebraska than in other states, the Fed noted. Nebraska’s unemployment rate peaked at 7.4% in 2020 before dropping back to the 3% level it had registered before COVID-19.
Job losses overall were much smaller in Nebraska than in other states too. By February 2021, employment had returned basically to normal in the Cornhusker State while employment in most other states remained down more than 5% from the previous February.


Small town main street in Nebraska
Photo courtesy NDED

To gauge how the Nebraska recovery is impacting corporate real estate expansion and economic development, I turned to Anthony L. Goins, director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, who responded to my questions by e-mail.

What were your biggest economic development project wins of the past 12 months?

Anthony Goins: The past year has been an exciting year for expansions and announcements in Nebraska. 

  • Last October, Amazon announced a robotics fulfillment center in Sarpy County that is anticipated to create 1,000 jobs. 
  • In November 2020, Dollar General announced an $85 million distribution center in the city of Blair that will create 400 jobs. 
  • Facebook in March announced the expansion of a $1.5 billion data center in Sarpy County, making it one of the largest in the world. 
  • In July, Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing announced a $200 million expansion to its Lincoln-based production facility, which is slated to create 550 jobs. 
  • Monolith Materials is in the final stages of solidifying a $1 billion expansion of its renewable-powered manufacturing facility near Hallam. 

What are your top priorities for the next 12 months?

Goins: With our state’s robust resilience and recovery from the pandemic, the Department of Economic Development can approach its mission for 2021 and beyond with a growth mindset, and from a position of strength:

  1. We’re working to recruit high-quality job creators to our state while supporting the expansion and retention of existing firms. Our brand-new busines incentives portfolio, Imagine Nebraska (ImagiNE) adds further value to our already nationally recognized business friendliness, affordability and competitive advantages.
  2. We’re supporting a vibrant tech ecosystem where innovation can thrive. Agtech, fintech, insurtech, data centers, manufacturing tech, biotechnology — all are sectors where Nebraska is experiencing rapid growth and the potential for significant expansion. Our goal is to make Nebraska the best state for tech companies looking to succeed and expand.
  3. We’re pursuing international trade and engagement to grow our state’s global footprint. Nebraska is already one of the world’s top exporters of agricultural products, from beef to irrigation equipment. We want to expand and create even more opportunities for our businesses, from large firms to cutting-edge startups. Aside from food commodities, our focus area is arguably agricultural equipment and ag-related innovation. Some of the world’s leading ag equipment producers and envelope-pushing companies are located right here in our state.
  4. We’re passing legislation and dedicating resources to address workforce housing needs throughout our state. Every community should have the housing resources to grow and thrive. This means expanding our stock of quality homeowner and rental units at a variety of price points that appeal to a range of consumers, from everyday working families to corporate CEOs.
  5. Meanwhile, we are honed-in on workforce development so we can supply the skilled capital our rapidly evolving industries require. For example, we’re engaged with our university and community college system to develop scholarship, workforce training and apprenticeship programs to equip Nebraskans with in-demand job skills. We’re also addressing our workforce needs from the ground up, engaging with the labor force at every age and educational level:
    • The Developing Youth Talent Initiative introduces middle school students to great-paying careers in fields like manufacturing and IT.
    • Statewide high school career academies give students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience and begin earning college credit.
    • Registered apprenticeships provide young Nebraskans with the opportunity to earn income, obtain credentials and accumulate course credits while learning a new job (despite the pandemic, Nebraska grew registered apprentice enrollment by 14% in 2020 for a total of 1,511 new registered apprentices enrolled in Nebraska Registered Apprenticeship Programs).
    • Our Career Scholarships program, which will offer at least 2,110 scholarships by 2023, is helping pay the way for college students to attain knowledge and skills to enter high demand fields like engineering or nursing.
    And we’re seeing these efforts bear fruit: in 2020, Nebraska overtook Iowa and Minnesota to become the best state in our region for workforce development, according to Site Selection magazine.
  6. In the competition for workforce talent, we’re turning to one of America’s best and brightest resources: retiring and separating U.S. military Veterans. That’s why we’re aggressively marketing the DoD SkillBridge program to firms across our state. SkillBridge connects retiring and separating servicemembers to excellent job and career opportunities during their final 180 days of service. We are recruiting more and more Nebraska businesses to enroll in SkillBridge and see how it can help connect them with the over 200,000 highly skilled, leadership-savvy personnel who transition to civilian life each year, including out of our own Offutt Air Force Base.


Omaha, Nebraska at night
Photo courtesy NDED

How did the pandemic impact the economy and economic development in Nebraska?

Goins: Nebraska has arguably displayed one of the country’s most resilient economies during the pandemic, as is typical of our economic performance during times of turbulence. For example, we currently have the lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 2.2% — an all-time historic state low. Of the 389 metro areas in the United States, Nebraska’s three metros rank No. 1, No. 2 and No. 6 for lowest unemployment rate (Lincoln is No. 1 at 1.7%, Grand Island is No. 2 at 1.9%, and Omaha is No. 6 at 2.3%.). WalletHub ranks Nebraska as the second-best state for finding a job. Manufacturing employment, meanwhile, is at its highest point in over a decade. 



"Our goal is to be the best and easiest state for expanding or starting a business in the country."

 — Anthony L. Goins, Director, Nebraska Department of Economic Development



While the nation’s GDP declined 3.4% last year, Nebraska was one of the least affected states — with the fourth best GDP performance. Our state has bounced back strong. Nebraska had the fastest fourth quarter GDP growth of any state in 2020 (11.8%), more than doubling the national growth rate of 4.5%. In September, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Bureau of Business Research reported that Nebraska’s leading economic indicator (LEI) increased again during August 2021 on the strength of business expectations and an uptick in manufacturing hours worked. The LEI has now risen in 10 of the past 11 months, signaling continued growth for our state.

Meanwhile, even with the pandemic, manufacturing employment has reached its highest point in over a decade. Mainstays of our state’s manufacturing community like Behlen, BD, Kawasaki, and Nucor have all significantly expanded their workforces this past year. In terms of our largest industry, agriculture, Nebraska again ranked first nationally in 2020 for the most agricultural cash receipts per capita. While the population of Texas is almost 15 times that of Nebraska, the Cornhusker State sold more ag commodities than the Lone Star State last year. Nebraska also tops Texas in beef exports, ranking second behind Kansas. Nebraska’s beef exports are on pace to set an all-time high in 2021. They are up 30% year-to-date. In August 2021, Nebraska’s beef exports surpassed $188 million — the best month ever for our state.

What are some emerging industries in Nebraska?

Goins: Nebraska is emerging as a state where technology companies can be poised to thrive. For example, we have experienced major strategic investments from Amazon, Facebook, Google, Yahoo and other tech-driven firms in very recent years. Between 2010 and 2020, net tech employment in Nebraska increased by nearly 20%. It is no coincidence that Omaha in 2021 ranked as America’s No. 7 city for telecommuters applying for remote work positions, according to techrepublic. 

In fact, it’s incredible the number of national or global technology firms that originated in or have a major presence in Nebraska. Some of the biggest names in fintech like Nelnet and Fiserv. Cutting-edge companies like Spreetail. Hudl. Flywheel. Opendorse — which was built by two Nebraska football players and is one of the biggest operators in the burgeoning name, image and likeness space now.

We also have a range of Fortune 500 and 1000 firms in our state, spanning the financial, insurance, transportation and logistics and other industries. This year, 25 Nebraska companies made the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing firms in America.

What is your state’s best-kept secret? 

Goins: Companies investing in Nebraska have found that it’s really no secret: Nebraska’s size and business friendliness mean site selectors and decisionmakers have close, personal access to local and state leaders who can help them achieve their goals. Businesses want to work with states and communities that are welcoming, lack red tape and have the ability to forge smooth working relationships. In Nebraska, we place that relationship philosophy at the forefront of our business recruitment and expansion efforts. Our goal is to be the best and easiest state for expanding or starting a business in the country. 

Lincoln, Nebraska
Photo courtesy NDED

Ron Starner
Executive Vice President of Conway, Inc.

Ron Starner

Ron Starner is Executive Vice President of Conway Data, Inc. He has been with Conway Data for 22 years and serves as a writer and editor for both Site Selection and the company's Custom Content publishing division. His Twitter handle is @RonStarner.


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