- Associated Press - Thursday, October 1, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska’s new economic development director abruptly left her position Thursday after a little more than eight months on the job, with Gov. Pete Ricketts saying the state needs leadership that can promote it nationally and globally.

Ricketts said Brenda Hicks-Sorensen has concluded her term as the department’s director, effective immediately. The governor appointed Hicks-Sorensen in January after a privately funded national search lured her from a state job-creation agency in Wisconsin.

Taylor Gage, a spokesman for Ricketts, said the governor decided to make a “leadership change” earlier this week.

“Brenda has skills and talents that just weren’t a good fit for what we needed,” Gage said, declining to elaborate.

In a statement, Ricketts did not address the decision directly but noted that he has traveled the state extensively and led two international trade missions.

“During these travels, it became clear to me that Nebraska needs to do more to market our state both nationally and globally,” Ricketts said. “Nebraska’s future ability to grow jobs is contingent on leadership that is able to accomplish these goals.”

Ricketts thanked Hicks-Sorensen for her service, and said he will continue to focus on growing the state and “aggressively building an agency centered on promoting Nebraska’s business friendly climate.”

The announcement comes hours after ConAgra Foods announced that it will eliminate 1,500 jobs and move its headquarters from Omaha to Chicago.

It also follows news this week that another Ricketts appointee, Yolanda Webb, resigned from an administrative position at the Department of Health and Human Services because she had inflated her academic credentials. Webb stepped down after state human resources officials discovered that she had not completed her doctoral degree as claimed on her resume.

Hicks-Sorensen previously served as a vice president of Economic and Community Development for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. Her salary in Nebraska was $145,000.

Hicks-Sorensen faced scrutiny in June after the Wisconsin agency came under fire for approving a questionable business loan. Wisconsin auditors said the agency didn’t review the finances of a struggling business before approving a $500,000 loan, which is now in default.

The business was owned by a man who donated $10,000 to Gov. Scott Walker’s 2010 campaign. Hicks Sorensen defended her actions at the agency, saying she personally opposed the loan but wasn’t able to stop it. Ricketts said he was confident she had behaved in the right way.

Ricketts said an interim director will be named shortly, and a new national search will start right away using the same firm that found Hicks-Sorensen.

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