This post originally appeared on the Omaha World Herald Editorial page.
The 21st century presents big challenges to a state and its people.
Technology is transforming the economy, upending traditional business practices and requiring ever-higher qualifications for workers. Many young people migrate to cities and states with the greatest opportunity. The cost of living continues upward, putting pressure on household incomes. And divisions within a state complicate efforts to build a common economic vision.
A new initiative, called Blueprint Nebraska, aims to address those challenges by encouraging statewide input and collaboration. Among the factors that will determine success: broad participation from across Nebraska; a thorough understanding of the state’s economic prospects, positive and negative; adoption of sound, practical strategies and priorities; dedication of adequate resources to goals; and strong leadership at both the state and local levels.
Blueprint Nebraska sends the important message that Nebraskans — as individuals and as communities — can’t afford to be passive in the face of present and future challenges. Instead, the state needs to take a full inventory of its strengths and weaknesses, then move forward with a proactive vision to achieve positive results statewide
University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds says Blueprint Nebraska can help the state “look over the horizon and think about what are the best decisions we can make for our children and grandchildren.” Before taking the helm at NU, Bounds was a leader in his native Mississippi as it pursued such a strategy.
Late this summer and in the fall, groups of Blueprint Nebraska leaders will host public forums in 30-plus communities so Nebraskans from all walks of life can share their views on the state’s needs. That input, plus research from NU and other higher-education institutions, will be used to develop the state’s first comprehensive, long-range economic plan.
Blueprint Nebraska task forces will look at the information and public input in developing recommendations involving major topics: agriculture; banking and finance; community vitality; educational attainment; energy and natural resources; entrepreneurship; health care; housing; manufacturing; mega-site development; military and veterans affairs; taxation and incentives; technology and innovation; transportation; and workforce needs.
The U.S. economy keeps evolving, and so do the requirements to be competitive against other states, says Bryan Slone, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry. That makes it crucial for Nebraskans to understand the economic landscape and work together to maximize the state’s competitiveness to meet changing circumstances over time, he says.
That means the Blueprint Nebraska plan will need to be refreshed as economic conditions evolve, says Lance Fritz, chairman and CEO of Union Pacific Corp. in Omaha. Fritz is co-chair of the 21-member Nebraska Blueprint steering committee, along with Owen Palm, president and CEO of 21st Century Equipment, a farm equipment company in Scottsbluff.
Nebraskans are sure to have differences of opinion on priorities and ways to achieve goals. Such disagreement can be healthy. At the same time, this statewide effort is too important to get bogged down in political bickering or parochial special-interest battles. Steering the effort will require sound leadership at all levels.
Keeping this important program on track will require looking to Nebraska’s overall interest, Bounds says: “When you put the state’s needs first, good things happen.”
That’s a sound guidepost. Through statewide dialogue and cooperation, Nebraskans can build a stronger future.