- Associated Press - Monday, April 8, 2019

Omaha World Herald. April 2, 2019

Nebraska needs to pursue broad-based strategy on workforce development

Nebraska faces a major workforce shortage in a wide range of jobs. Bryan Slone, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry, is right when he says, “This is now the most pressing economic issue in the state.”

But Nebraska has tremendous potential to turn the problem around. We should strive to be a national leader on this issue. Let’s show the rest of the country how smart planning and a collaborative, can-do attitude can help a state make groundbreaking strides forward on workforce development.

Nebraska boasts major strengths, including a lower cost of living and sound, strategic investments being made in education and workforce training. Our state can demonstrate its confidence and strategic savvy to the nation by competing strongly in industry sectors where we have advantages or opportunities.

Here are some of the main ingredients for a successful Nebraska response: Up-to-date training facilities. Collaboration between industry and educational institutions. Soundly structured incentives and supports to promote a skilled workforce and related startups. Competitive salaries, as much as practically possible. Quality-of-life considerations including affordable housing, strong schools, attractive public amenities and - not least - a community spirit that welcomes workers of all backgrounds.

The current shortages are affecting a wide range of Nebraska businesses. “I’ve had countless conversations with business leaders and educators and know we’ve lost well over a thousand jobs in the last couple of years,” said Dana Bradford, outgoing chair of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce. “And I know we will lose thousands more if we don’t get this turned around.”

If Nebraska’s manufacturing sector could fill all its needed positions, it could grow by 10 percent, Slone estimates. Nebraska is home to an impressive set of high-tech firms such as Hudl (sports software) and Flywheel (web development), but those companies are having to place some of their new jobs in other states because Nebraska can’t fill them, The World-Herald’s Henry Cordes reports.

In all, more than 36,000 jobs are unfilled across the state, according to the Nebraska Department of Labor.

Nebraska has been taking some appropriate steps forward. Here are just a few examples:

Career academies, intended to create school-to-work career pipelines, are taking root in Nebraska communities. In Omaha, Metropolitan Community College worked with industry to create state-of-the-art training facilities such as its Center for Advanced and Emerging Technology. Wayne State College, similarly, just opened its Center for Applied Technology. Lance Perez, the engineering dean at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is pursuing plans to boost the program’s enrollment substantially. The Legislature last year passed legislation to help facilitate construction of workforce housing.

As for the future, Nebraska officials are looking at important proposals, including an ambitious technology-focused scholarship initiative as well as a strengthened incentives program for high-productivity startups.

The 21st-century economy offers big opportunities for Nebraska. Through sound planning and energetic coordination, we can and should strive to be a national leader.


The Grand Island Independent. April 4, 2019

Potential for community schools great

Grand Island Public Schools has embarked on a unique approach to educating children with its community schools pilot project at Lincoln Elementary School.

This approach sees the schools as the center of the community for the families of their students. The goal is to help the families see the schools as the place to go for information and to access community services.

The idea was presented to the district’s school board last summer by Jennifer Worthington, its chief of innovation and engagement. Her hire for this new position was a clear demonstration of the district’s commitment to being innovative.

Heartland United Way has partnered with GIPS for this project. The district has also enlisted other agencies in the community to have events at which they provide services to the school’s families.

An example is a program on severe weather given at Lincoln School by a meteorologist from the National Weather Service in Hastings and the Hall County emergency management director last month. NWS also presented a program on severe weather to students at the school that week.

Lincoln Principal Maureen Oman said weather safety was identified as a need in a survey, so the program was scheduled.

Other community schools events have included CPR, fire prevention, first aid and parenting classes, as well as an art event. Upcoming events include a dental clinic, child growth and development classes, a car seat event and adult nutrition classes.

These have the potential of meeting numerous health care and safety needs of families with young children.

It will take time to build the connection with the parents so that more of them participate in these programs, but the school district sees this as a way to help students succeed by building healthy families. When young children see their parents becoming more active at their school, that encourages them to value their education and enjoy going to school.

Scheduling is also an issue as some parents can attend programs at night, while others need daytime sessions.

The community schools program has enormous potential as GIPS works to schedule the programs that meet the parents’ needs.

The district’s plan is to ultimately expand it to other schools, which would benefit more families.

This first year of the community schools program is very encouraging, underlining the importance of the school district to the community and the district’s recognition of its responsibility to the patrons who support it with their tax dollars and their votes in bond issues.


North Platte Telegraph. April 5, 2019

Better angels emerge in the Unicameral

When we wrote in this space Sunday, we wanted to urge west central Nebraska’s state senators - and any other senators who might see our words - to find ways to work together without fatally compromising their individual principles.

They have. And all who helped the Legislature get there, not least our own Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte, deserve our thanks.

Lawmakers Thursday gave 40-0 first-round approval to Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne’s proposed constitutional amendment (LR 14CA) that would extend the maximum length of tax increment financing projects in “extremely blighted” areas from 15 to 20 years.

With that, the Unicameral started working through other bills held up all week by the same kind of partisan-tinged sniping that poisoned it two sessions ago.

Groene and Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard, both consistent TIF critics, abstained from Thursday’s vote. Both lawmakers, joined by others, spoke against LR 14CA when it stalled March 26, apparently not to return.

That started a chain of events - involving, as such chains often do, other senators and unrelated bills - that left Wayne and several other Omaha senators vowing to block bills important to our region.

We were alarmed by that prospect. Nebraska in general, and western Nebraska in particular, has too many pressing issues for the state’s 49 lawmakers to once again spend the rest of their session at loggerheads.

We can’t see and hear what happens behind the scenes at the State Capitol. But we know that senators need not roll legislative logs to uphold their principles and build working relationships that give all lawmakers a fair opportunity to advance their proposals.

The Telegraph seeks to nurture that approach in editorials about local and state issues, even when we disagree with a particular stance by our elected leaders. And when we believe one of our own has been unfairly accused, we’ll say so.

We know Mike Groene to be entirely consistent, no matter where or to whom he speaks, in his local and statewide critiques of TIF and his dedication to serving District 42.

And from what we’ve observed, we believe Justin Wayne approaches the good of his district and state with equal integrity and devotion.

Whatever transpired behind the scenes in Lincoln since Sunday reinforces our belief.

After general rancor on the floor Tuesday and Wednesday, Wayne’s amendment suddenly appeared at the top of Thursday’s agenda. Senators were asking and answering constructive questions.

And Groene explained what he was trying to do when things broke down last week.

As written, he said, LR 14CA would allow developers to offer TIF projects in north Omaha (or anywhere else) including both “extremely blighted” land and open land - but then build on the open land and ignore the land that needed redevelopment the most.

Groene then withdrew a floor amendment senators had been debating when time ran out, saying he’ll keep working with Wayne on how to tweak LR 14CA to address that risk.

And Wayne said he won’t further block progress on bills by any senator who might vote against his amendment.

“Today, I’m proud,” he said before senators voted. “And I’m proud because we actually had a debate on the issue” rather than “a complaint (that) we dislike TIF and its abuses and we’re just going to say that over and over.”

All Nebraskans should be proud. That’s how George W. Norris and his fellow Unicameral founding fathers intended their creation to work.

Bravo to Groene, Wayne and their fellow senators for working things out.


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