- Associated Press - Monday, January 9, 2017

Omaha World-Herald. January 5, 2017

Worker skills to get a boost

A promising new effort in the Omaha area aims to get more Nebraskans into the labor force and connect people with training to boost their skill level and employability.

The focus is the National Career Readiness Certificate, which shows job seekers’ proficiency in math, reading and other topics to potential employers.

More than 10,000 employers nationwide recognize the certificate, and nearly 3.6 million job seekers have earned it.

Earning the certificate involves taking a free, three-hour test administered in the Omaha area by the nonprofit Heartland Workforce Solutions. The test measures skills including reading comprehension and applied math.

Heartland prepares job seekers to take the test and helps local businesses understand the certificate.

Metropolitan Community College will provide free, short-term classes to help people raise their skill levels in areas needing improvement.

Use of the certificate sends a message of encouragement to people who might otherwise think poorly of their employment possibilities. The message: Here’s a path forward to help you understand your skill level, address shortcomings as needed and connect with potential employers.

The City of Omaha appropriated $400,000 this year to the effort. Omaha leaders said the initiative’s outreach to residents in low-income areas is especially important.

Collaboration with schools is another component. Heartland Workforce Solutions will offer the certificate assessment test at high schools in the Omaha Public Schools, for example.

Various Omaha businesses as well as the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce are encouraging local companies to include the certificates as a tool in their hiring process.

This initiative pursues a number of important long-term goals simultaneously. It works to increase the active labor force, raise worker skill levels and boost awareness among young people and adults about employment opportunities. That’s a forward-looking vision worth supporting.

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Kearney Hub. January 5, 2017

Government efficiency

Gov. Pete Ricketts is a hugely successful businessman, and that’s how he’s governing Nebraska. Where its practical and appropriate, Ricketts is attempting to infuse people employed in state government with a passion to improve and streamline processes, save money, and improve services for Nebraskans.

This week, Ricketts proudly announced that 12,000 state employees have completed the workforce training initiative, Operation Excellence. Those 12,000 employees trained for 14,000 hours and now are white belt certified in customer-focused service delivery. We assume the white belt means the employees are qualified at the most basic level, and, as in martial arts, they will have the opportunity to learn and perfect additional skills and advance their way through the belts.

Progress is measurable. Since June, the state has reduced the wait time for citizens to receive certain services, and the state is conducting more than a dozen process improvement activities in different agencies. We noted that Ricketts is proud of the progress, but all of the 12,000 trainees also should feel proud - and empowered.

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Lincoln Journal Star. January 6, 2017

Right move on first day of session

It’s little surprise that conservatives will control the Legislature for at least the next two years.

But there still are unanswered questions about how state senators will go about their duties as lawmakers.

The chief worry is that Nebraska lawmakers will begin aping the behavior of members of Congress, who seem to spend most of their time scheming on how to make the other party look bad.

One encouraging sign was the vote on the first day of the 2017 session that turned back an attempt to make public the votes for leadership positions.

If those votes become public, unelected party bosses would get the keys to state government. By dispensing punishment and reward, the bosses could control who gets to chair committees.

The need to keep party operatives away from the levers of power in Nebraska state government is particularly important in an era in which candidates are attacked by shadowy organizations with hidden sources of funding.

Selection of committee chairs has been revised from time to time in the Legislature. At one time all chairs were nominated by the committee on committees. Secret ballots have been in use since that practice was abolished in 1973.

Pressure has been building in Republican Party headquarters to end the secret ballots as the party gradually became overwhelmingly dominant in the state. Eventually the goal of became part of the state Republican Party platform.

One of the strengths of Nebraska’s nonpartisan Legislature is the independence of its members. Because they don’t have to toe the line for party bosses, they are free to study issues and come to their own conclusions.

Genuine discussion takes place. Coalitions vary from issue to issue. State policy is determined in full public view - not hatched behind closed doors at party headquarters with senators just going through the motions in public.

Nebraska’s unique one-house, nonpartisan Legislature has enjoyed the support of the public since it was approved by voters in 1934 and began meeting in 1937.

In general terms the Legislature is held in esteem by Nebraskans.

So it’s a mystery why senators would want to emulate their counterparts in federal government.

As we pointed out in yesterday’s editorial, Congress posted an all-time favorability rating of 14 percent in 2013, and has managed to improve to only 17 percent since then.

Surely state senators want to do better. Public confidence is important in democratic government.

There’s little doubt that more attempts will be made to require public votes for legislative leadership positions. For their own sake and the sake of their constituents, senators ought to keep the secret ballot.

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Scottsbluff Star-Herald. January 5, 2017

Keep your money local

Growing up 12 miles northeast of Scottsbluff meant trips to town were special. Back then there were no malls, big box super stores instead the majority of the shopping was downtown at the locally owned small businesses.

Places like Russell’s Music, the Cats Meow, L.B. Murphy, Bluffs Pharmacy and the Ranchway Western Store. I remember always having to visit Toy Castle, it was a kid’s dream true castle. If I could convince mom to buy me something, the dream came true.

There was a record store, but I don’t remember the name. There were two musical instrument stores, Jay’s and Russell’s Music. I bought my first guitar from Russell’s, a Yamaha acoustic I still have and play.

On the way out of town, we would stop at Baily’s to load up on groceries.

If I was with dad, we always stopped at Carr Trumbull on Broadway and we had to make a stop at F.H. Schafer Elevator on Railway Avenue.

They were all locally owned. The closest thing to a big box store was Woolworth’s. It was an old five and dime with a little bit of everything.

All but Carr Trumbull and Schafer’s, are gone today, even they have changed, moved and gotten bigger, but still locally owned.

I walked into one of our super stories recently grabbed a shopping cart and as I was about to start shopping I looked around. I saw Toy Castle in the toy section, the Cats Meow in the card and gift sections, L.B. Murphy’s in the clothing, Bluffs Pharmacy and Bailey’s all in one store. It is nice having all under one roof, but it is also very sad. The mega stories buy in huge quantities and the small business owner struggles to compete.

Add in the untaxed competition from Internet stores - many of which offer free shipping - and it gets even tougher to keep the doors open.

We saw that play out this week with Western Trail Sports, a locally owned business open for 46 years, closing its doors.

Owner Bruce Rolls, my former accounting teacher at Scottsbluff High School, said, “You can combat it to a certain extent, but it’s obvious nationwide that the chains will be doing business. Somebody told me that the independent merchant is a dinosaur.”

It is too late to save the dinosaurs, but the independent merchant is not yet lost. However, they are an endangered species.

We still have locally owned stores such as Main Street Appliance, which we featured in the paper recently. There is Sonny’s Bike Shop, which will be featured soon. You can get a new guitar, drum set and more at Crossroads Music or Thrasher Music.

Actually, if you look around you will find a number of locally owned businesses still fighting to keep their doors open. They may not hire as many people as the big box stores or offer no sales tax like some of the Internet stores, but their profits stay here and travel around the community impacting your life in a positive way.

I buy a new guitar from Crossroads. Richard, the owner, buys lumber from Carr Trumbull. Jim, one of the owners, buys a new bike from Sonny’s and JR, the owner buys groceries at Fresh Foods and the money keeps flowing in our hometown.

We have brought a number of endangered species back, such as the American eagle. We can do the same with independent merchants.

So as much as possible, do your shopping at a locally owned business. Keep your money at home.

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