Nebraska, notably, has again achieved its country-leading low unemployment rate. In addition, cranes are up and developments are taking shape.
These achievements were no easy feat, with the labor to power these projects in short supply, like the supplies themselves. These shortages, coupled with evolving variants and COVID-19 surges, have presented persistent headwinds.
“Omaha’s recovery throughout 2021 has been strong,” said Todd Johnson, senior vice president, economic development, with the Greater Omaha Chamber. “We’ve led the country with our low unemployment rate, which shows a rebounding and accelerating economy.”
Citing U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Johnson referred to how Omaha’s unemployment rate of 1.7% compares favorably to the 4.3% unemployment rate for the country (as of October). A year ago, unemployment stood at 3.5% for Omaha (as compared to 2.6% pre-pandemic October 2019).
“We’ve grown the number of jobs almost 3% in October 2021 as compared to October 2020, and the overall employment numbers are up 3% over that same timeframe,” Johnson added.
Taking a deeper dive at the numbers, Johnson noted that the state as a whole has shown a double-digit increase in employment among jobs that pay more than $27,000 since January.
“That would lead us to believe we’ve recovered much faster and created more jobs at all income levels than the nation as a whole,” he said.
Citing $1.3-plus billion in landed economic development projects throughout 2021 and data courtesy of Brookings Metro Recovery Index, Johnson said incredible investment in the community has been maintained.
“That represents more than $51.3 million in new payroll created in our region,” he said.
He credits the ability to weather and recover to the region’s well-diversified economy, and to our region’s active, ongoing economic development partnership “that doesn’t stop at county or even state lines.”
“This partnership is very unique regionally,” Johnson said. “It allows us to pursue many projects that other metros might not.”
Ongoing Talent Crisis
“While we have strong workforce participation, our employers still can’t find enough people to fill all their open jobs,” Johnson said. “We’re [supporting] our members with recruitment efforts to help them attract out-of-region candidates. In 2022,
we’ll be collaborating with organizations to expand the availability of quality internships.”
Such internships will provide both immediate and long-term benefits.
“We’re committed to the Omaha 2040 vision that will shape Omaha into a vibrant metro that will attract and retain young members of the workforce,” he said.
Talent was most certainly top of mind for Karen Gibler, president of the Sarpy County Chamber of Commerce.
“With a shortage in workforce, it has been difficult for businesses to operate in their regular hours and that will likely impact their ability to maintain continued strong income and even growth,” she said.
This is occurring even as, Gibler puts it, “our economy feels strong … wages and spending have continued to rise.”
Tied to wages, she spoke to how the workforce shortage has driven up the pay scale as organizations need to hire much-needed staff. Tied to specific projects, Gibler applauded the speed of construction on large-scale undertakings — such as Meta, Amazon and Google.
“From my perspective at the Sarpy Chamber it’s even more exciting to celebrate so many new medium to small businesses with ribbon cuttings,” she said. “Even as we get into the cold of winter, our scissors are still in demand and that’s been great to see.”
But, Gibler continued, regardless of a company’s size: “Everyone from Amazon down to small businesses is going to be focusing on attracting and maintaining workforce. When doors open, businesses need employees to keep those doors open.
“The country and world are still dealing with the pandemic’s impact, but Sarpy County continues to weather it pretty well. Not many businesses have closed, and I credit that to a community who has been dedicated to supporting local businesses, as well as the many programs and grants available to keep them afloat as we get closer and closer to business as usual.”
Metonic Real Estate Solutions closely follows the state of the economy, VP Investor Relations Josh White said, as the firm looks to respond to consumer and investor demands locally and regionally.
“At present, the state of the local economy is booming,” he said. “One can look at the low unemployment rate … or the fact that Omaha is regularly on the list of ‘the best places to start a business’ in 2021.
“We also look at the positive picture of economic development, including rapid growth of capital investment in the greater Omaha community spurred on by some major companies in the U.S.”
White also noted that, before the firm decides to purchase or build, Metonic dives deep into market analysis on the likes of recent and proposed multifamily construction, absorption rates, how people are living and socializing, and indicators such as demographic and income data, and current and project employment.
Of note to the firm, Metonic has launched Phase No. 2 of Ravello 192 at 192nd and Pacific streets.
“This project focuses on our ‘apartminium’ product type, which combines the comfort of a condominium with the convenience of an apartment community,” he explained.
“Because of the success of Ravello, we will soon begin construction on Vestara in Papillion and are set to begin two additional apartminium properties, Allora168 in Gretna and Capriana Homes located in Elkhorn, respectively.”
More to what makes these projects noteworthy, White said all apartminium homes have a single point of entry and attached garage and feature larger one to three bedrooms, “reflective of what our consumers are looking for in the marketplace.”
He also noted “all-inclusive” pricing for amenities.
“This product type has been successful, especially with the lack of new residential homes, as well as the inflated cost of buying new and existing homes in the current market,” White said.
“From our research and market analysis, Omaha has done very well in 2021 and rebounded from 2020 in exceptional fashion. We believe the growth of the economy will continue and, as we move further from 2020, we will see people choosing Omaha and the surrounding suburbs as attractive places to live, work and play.”
JE Dunn Vice President-Senior Client Solutions Director Doug Duren said if there is anything the company has learned about Omaha in the past year or so, it’s this: “This city and our people are resilient.” “We managed to adapt to pandemic life and not just survive — we’ve thrived,” he said. “Our state currently has the lowest unemployment rate since data collection began, and our employment-to-population ratio is No. 1 in the nation. Omaha has been at the heart of that progress.”
Duren has seen businesses and people from all over the country relocate to Omaha.
“Because they know the benefits our city offers: low cost of living, Midwest work ethic and ample business opportunity,” he said.
“While we can’t control everything — we’re currently facing supply chain issues, gas prices are up and COVID is still affecting everyday life — our team lives and raises families in this community. We see the crowds returning to restaurants, gyms, stores, entertainment facilities, and it energizes us.”
And he indicated they’ve had the good fortune of helping businesses, neighborhoods and communities grow in the metro.
“From our lens as a general contractor, our local economy is doing extremely well,” Duren expanded. “If you look around Omaha, you’ll notice new projects are being built in every vertical market. To grow, not just sustain, is remarkable and the large health care and mission critical projects Omaha has, are a good gauge of the economy’s health.”
He said JE Dunn continues to be proactive and adaptable. So, owners can move forward with projects even amid current supply chain and escalation issues. Notable projects include the Applied Underwriters headquarters in Heartwood Preserve, the new Sarpy County Corrections Center, Methodist Hospital Emergency Department renovations, a large mission-critical project, and Dunn said the firm just started on a large field house project for Columbus Community Hospital.
“One of the most exciting projects we completed in 2021 is the new Carson Wealth/Goldenrod headquarters in Heartwood Preserve,” he said. “We were fortunate enough to move our Omaha office to this same building in June. Its location and beautiful design have given a boost to our local brand and employee engagement.”
And, as Omaha continues to attract businesses, employees, families and students, Duren said they will continue to provide opportunities for people to “find places to live, work, heal, create and play.”
“Our purpose is to better our community through building,” he said.
Swartzbaugh-Farber & Associates Retirement Plan Administrator Matthew Munyon spoke to investments in employees and the evolving workforce.
“It is very noticeable that people are back out and traffic to retailers is up quite a bit,” he said. “The downside is that stores, which always had a lot of help available for their customers now, seem to not have enough employees to service customers the way they used to be able to.”
A major thread that winds through the market: “It seems our historically low unemployment rate has some positive and negative components,” he said.
“That being, it appears that both private and government spending is also up — you just have to look at all of the developments alongside West Dodge Road to see that.”
Munyon also spotlighted the NCAA Men’s College World Series and its impact on recovering restaurants and bars, as well as new retail and office space construction that allows companies to provide goods, resources and services to more people in Omaha, and to help keep the people in the local area employed.
“I think a lot of restaurants and bars bounced back some, though the lack of employees continues to dampen their recovery,” he said. “I think there has been a renewed sense of importance in investing in your employees — whether that be home office allowances, increased wages, better work/life balance, there has been a focus on improving the employee experience, at least that’s what I have seen and heard.
“As much as I hated hearing the term ‘new normal’ throughout 2020, there are many changes that were made out of necessity during the pandemic that will stick around to help businesses decrease expenses and, hopefully, raise productivity,” he said.
Dave Dvorak’s team at Dvorak Law Group has stayed “exceptionally busy” over the past year — particularly the firm’s corporate, estate planning, tax and litigation groups.
The president and executive committee chair said the corporate group saw “heightened levels of deal flow” starting in the latter part of 2020. Traditional levels of activity were maintained alongside significant new work in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan space.
On the estate and tax side, Dvorak said the firm saw unprecedented levels of high and ultra-high net worth planning, originally fueled by the election cycle and anticipated tax law changes.
“Our litigation group remained steady and active despite the logistical challenges related to COVID,” he said.
Strong markets, expanding economy, changes in tax and regulatory schemes, and perceived and actual decreases in COVID-related complications were isolated as drivers behind activity in corporate, estate planning/tax, and litigation practice areas, according to Executive Vice President and Executive Committee Member Dave Mayer.
Mayer also noted the need for their team’s expertise to address vulnerabilities related to shifts in corporate and individual tax structures. The firm has further evolved to clients’ openness to electronic communications with investments in the likes of cloud-based and electronic hardware and software.
Among the greatest opportunities for talent and firms alike in their space, according to Mayer, is the introduction of a “more flexible mindset on the part of employers to accommodate less traditional work arrangements.”
Dvorak added that the mentoring and training of young attorneys or careerists will still need to take place in person or on the job, while also maintaining the employer’s culture.