Nebraska: Infrastructure, Innovation, Development

01 May, 2016

Gov. Pete Ricketts wants to make sure his state remains business friendly. In his 2016 State of the State address, he set out his priorities for strengthening the economy and attracting new industries. Meanwhile, Nebraska is growing and has a solid AAA rating from Standard & Poor’s.

The Property Tax Credit Relief Fund will be a major priority in order to continue providing property tax relief–especially to its agricultural-based economy, which has seen commodity prices remain flat. Last year, the fund provided $408 million in direct dollar-for-dollar property tax relief.

Additionally, Nebraska is committed to a strong infrastructure, and the new plan for a “Transportation Infrastructure Bank” will help provide for the state’s transportation needs. This initiative will accelerate road construction and repairs but provide for the cost in the budget, rather than create debt for funding these projects. The proposal provides approximately $150 million to fund three programs. “Building infrastructure in a fiscally responsible manner is a key to how we grow Nebraska,” said Gov. Ricketts.

There are also significant programs in place that are developing new businesses as well as ensuring a well-trained workforce. The Edward Lowe Economic Gardening Program supports second-stage growth companies and offers entrepreneurial guidance for qualifying companies. Under the Talent and Innovation Initiative (TI2), there are several incentives for growing companies. The Business Innovation Act provides funding for businesses developing new technologies that create jobs. The Intern Nebraska Grant program provides financial assistance to companies that offer new internships. The Angel Investment Tax Credit encourages investment in high-tech and other startup enterprises in Nebraska. The Site and Building Development Fund helps to improve Nebraska’s industrial readiness.

Many companies have discovered the advantages of doing business in Nebraska, and it is home to five Fortune 500 companies, including Berkshire Hathaway, ConAgra Foods, Mutual of Omaha, Peter Kiewit Sons and Union Pacific Railroad.

According to Kate Ellingson, Director of Marketing and Public Relations with Nebraska’s Department of Economic Development, an example of an outstanding new business attraction/business expansion project that drew together a number of key partners is Travelers Companies, Inc. In May 2015, Travelers Companies, Inc., opened a new data center in Sarpy County. Informal contact on the project started in late 2012 between Travelers Companies executives, site development consultants and officials with the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce. When the company filed a formal Request for Information in December 2012, officials from Sarpy County, Sarpy County Economic Development Corporation and the Nebraska Department of Economic Development were enlisted.

Company officials first toured the Greater Omaha metropolitan area and surveyed proposed sites in January 2013. Up to 25 people representing the City of Omaha, Sarpy County, area utilities and economic development organizations, and the State of Nebraska were actively involved, providing information about zoning requirements, infrastructure extensions and capabilities, financial assistance opportunities, and the overall business environment. The company ultimately built a 190,000-square-foot data center on a 41-acre parcel of a 140-acre tract in Sarpy County, investing approximately $200 million and employing 30 people.

There is an impressive list of other companies investing and/or expanding in Nebraska, from high-tech to engineering. These companies have created more than 1,400 new jobs and highlight the capital investment taking place within the state. Among the new companies are:

  • Hendrix ISA Genetics. A $35 million project in Hall County with 40 new jobs anticipated.
  • Xpanxion, a UST Global Group company. A $500,000 investment with 29 new full-time information technology positions anticipated at the new client briefing center developed in Kearney.
  • Q2, Relocation of business unit to Lincoln with 100 new tech jobs anticipated.
  • Green Plains Energy. A new, $20 million headquarters in Omaha anticipated to create 50 new jobs.
  • OCT Pipe, Manufacture drilling and production pipe to the major oil and gas players; $100 million investment in the Norfolk area and 200 new jobs anticipated.
  • HDR, Engineering firm. $100 million new headquarters building in Omaha. 200 jobs anticipated.
  • VM Innovations/ Spreetail. A $20 million, new headquarters project in Lincoln with 200 new jobs anticipated.
  • Wiles Development, hops production in the Plattsmouth area. 10 new jobs.
  • Resource Pro, back office insurance technology. 20 new jobs anticipated.
  • Monolith. Carbon black production and hydrogen byproduct manufacturing in Hallam. $210 million investment and 100 new jobs anticipated.

Among the successful business expansions are American Agricultural Laboratory, which specializes in soil and tissue testing; Builder Trend, an Omaha-based software firm; and GIX Logistics. York Cold Storage in York was awarded more than $267,000 CDBG funds that will provide additional resources and create new full-time positions. Hudl is a technology company building a new, $25 million headquarters in the Haymarket in Lincoln, which will add 300 new tech jobs, and Royal Engineered Composites, Inc. in Minden plans a $2.6 million expansion that will add 30 full-time jobs. These expansions reflect the robust, “business-friendly” atmosphere Nebraska offers.

Side Note

Nebraska Public Power District Update with Mary Plettner, CEcD, Economic Development Manager

Q –If you were speaking in general to a corporate location professional and wanted to share a few of the best reasons for picking a location/expansion site in a public power community such as yours, what would be your elevator pitch?

A -Each year, Nebraska is a regular on the list of most “business-friendly” states. There are many reasons for this, and the top three areas experts typically focus on are: 1) energy availability; 2) central geographic location; and 3) a high-quality, dedicated, low-cost workforce. This trio of business-friendly attributes sums up the advantages of locating a business in Nebraska.

Q-What location advantages does it offer to have a utility that is not-for-profit, with local ownership, management and accountability? What kind of impact does this have on reliability and ease of doing business?

A-Nebraska has the distinction of being the only state in the United States where every single home and business receives electric service from publicly owned utilities, such as municipal utilities, electric cooperatives or public power districts. These electric utilities operate at cost of service, and any revenues above that point are utilized for plant improvements, transmission facilities, and overall system reliability and integrity.

Q-What kinds of technologies and initiatives are re-shaping the relationship between utility and business customer in your area? Demand management? Distributed generation? Energy efficiency programs? Others?

A-Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) and its public power partners have developed a large customer economic development incentive electric rate that offers energy at a discounted price for a fixed period of time. This rate is ideally suited for data center loads, especially large enterprise operations.

Additionally, based upon customer input relating to efforts at minimizing their company’s carbon footprint, NPPD has developed a “green power product” that allows them to achieve their desired environmental goals from renewable and sustainable generation resources.

Q-What kinds of programs and services do you provide that some might find surprising? Internet? Green power options? Others?

A-NPPD supports energy research with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Nebraska Center for Energy Research to conduct research on renewable energy sources, energy efficiency and energy conservation to expand economic opportunities.

Q-If you would like to share any recent success stories of businesses that chose to locate or expand in your area, in part because of the services you provide, please feel free.

A-Currently, 46 percent of NPPD’s generation resources consist of non-carbon emitting resources, one of the highest numbers in the Midwest. In the near future, NPPD will add hydrogen to that list of carbon-free generation resources through its partnership with Monolith Materials, a cutting-edge manufacturer of carbon black—a product used in numerous consumer products from computers and telephones to automobile tires. NPPD plans to replace an existing coal-fired boiler at its Sheldon Station plant in Hallam, Nebraska, with one that uses clean-burning hydrogen fuel. The hydrogen will be produced by Monolith Materials as a co-product from its production of carbon black using natural gas as a feedstock.

Monolith will be developing operations in Nebraska beginning in 2016 and be fully built out by 2019.

This joint venture will create even more carbon-free energy offered by NPPD, infuse the economy, especially in southeast Nebraska, and create up to 600 new jobs in the state.

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