- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 2, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska officials are turning to local business leaders in hopes of attracting more companies to the state, Gov. Dave Heineman said Tuesday as he warned against complacency in competing with other states.

Heineman’s remarks came as he announced an upcoming “Nebraska Diplomats Passport Weekend” to encourage economic development.

The nonprofit Nebraska Diplomats group recruits local business leaders who agree to promote the state during their business travels and personally reach out to executives from elsewhere. The group includes more than 280 Nebraska business executives and community leaders, who work in tandem with the Nebraska Department of Economic Development to encourage business growth.

Heineman said Nebraska has made good strides in recruiting companies through tax reforms and in providing additional funding for higher education.

But he noted that competition with other states remains fierce, and warned against overconfidence because of the state’s relatively low unemployment and high rankings in various quality-of-life surveys. Nebraska’s preliminary unemployment rate inched up to 3.6 percent in July, according to a state Department of Labor report released last month.

“We’re competing every day,” Heineman said.

The diplomats program has helped lure companies to Nebraska in the past, said Dacia Kruse, acting director for the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. Kruse pointed to Bell Lumber and Pole, a utility-pole and wood-product company which opened in Sidney this year, and New Grand Ocean, a frozen food distributor in Omaha.

Many new companies that move to Nebraska consider the state because of relationships they build with business leaders, said Dan Shundoff, the 2014 president of the Nebraska Diplomats and the CEO of Intellicom Computer Consulting in Kearney. Shundoff said the diplomats help make the case that Nebraska is a strong choice to make investments.

“The buzz in this organization really encompasses the state from border to border,” Shundoff said.

Nebraska state officials have also led a series of trade missions through Asia to encourage foreign investment in the state and connect Nebraska business leaders with new international markets.