Bright Future: State Sees Growth in Public and Private Sectors

Investment in Nebraska can be seen among a wide swath of sectors. Growth in research and development, health care, real estate development and startups is just a sampling of what businesses are doing to invest in the Cornhusker State.

Research and Development

The Heartland Robotics Cluster, led by Invest Nebraska, received a $25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration. 

The grant initiative includes participation by the UNL College of Engineering, Northeast Community College, Metropolitan Community College, Nebraska Innovation Studio, the Nebraska Manufacturing Extension Partnership and The Combine, according to Invest Nebraska CEO Dan Hoffman.

The university’s $14.8 million portion of the award includes $9.3 million to build out robotics-related research and teaching spaces in Kiewit Hall, Scott Engineering Center and Splinter Labs. Additional allocations will utilize resources at Nebraska Innovation Studio and The Combine — both located at Nebraska Innovation Campus — and the Nebraska Manufacturing Extension Partnership. 

The university’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources will use $1.4 million to develop an automation demonstration space and program for Nebraska manufacturers.

“The cluster is a collaborative effort through the partnership,” Hoffman said. “Our hope is the cluster will increase Nebraska’s economic output for agriculture and manufacturing, and increase average wages in the manufacturing sector — greater productivity, less labor. 

Hoffman also listed an increase in venture capital for Nebraska-based ag tech and robotic startups; a greater percentage of women and minority students entering UNL’s  College of Engineering; an increase in the number of students earning a two-year robotic/automation degree at the state’s community colleges; and an increase in the number of prototypes produced by agtech and robotic startups.

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A key component of the innovation ecosystem in the state is the Business Innovation Act (BIA).

The Business Innovation Act, administered by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, is the catalyst for critical funding to early-stage businesses. A 2020 Economic Impact Analysis of the BIA, conducted by the UNL Bureau of Business Research, concluded that every $1 of BIA funding generated $5.75 in private investment funding, and earned $9.77 of revenue for every dollar of support received through the BIA.

“We hope that collectively the group of the Heartland Robotics Cluster can spur future Nebraska Innovators in hardware and automation,” Hoffman said.

Expanding Health Care

Nebraska Medicine has operated under many different names for more than 100 years, according to CEO Dr. James Linder.

In its current form the organization provides care throughout the state through facilities in Bellevue, Omaha and Kearney and in partnership with many other hospitals in addition to its telehealth services.

“We employ about 10,000 people, and we provide care to about a million citizens per year,” Linder said. “Most of them are from Nebraska, but we also see citizens from the Midwest and internationally. Nebraska Medicine is the primary teaching hospital for UNMC and Clarkson College. We also provide teaching opportunities to 50 other health science education colleges in the community.”

Nebraska Medicine’s three missions are: clinical care, educating the next generation of health care providers and conducting state-of-the-art clinical research. 

Nebraska Medicine currently has three projects underway.

The first is a community engagement center at the Highlander Accelerator. Although not a health care clinic, it will deliver education, community benefits and help people understand how to improve their own health and the opportunities for careers in health care.

“We’re very excited about this because it addresses some of the issues of inequity, and it can also provide opportunities for young individuals to understand what they might do with a health care career,” Linder said.

Nebraska Medicine is also in the process of expanding its cancer center and multi-specialty clinic at Village Pointe near 168th Street and West Dodge Road. The new facility, which will be open next year, will improve the access to care in western Omaha.

“We’ll see expanded cancer care services, expanded care in dermatology and other areas,” Linder said.

Finally, it is in the process of developing a cancer center in Kearney in conjunction with local providers to make sure the advanced cancer care offered by Nebraska Medicine is also available to central Nebraska citizens.

“Long term, that activity will be aligned with planned expansion of UNMC health care education in Kearney,” Linder said.

Health care careers offer great opportunities to improve the lives of others and have countless opportunities for employment, Linder said.

“I encourage people who are thinking about health care careers to visit with any of our recruiters and educators,” he said.

Commercial and Residential Growth

GreenSlate Development — which is developing and managing Omaha’s Blackstone District, a diverse multi-use community — has several projects in progress.

Blackstone East — its final name is yet to be determined — is an $80 million, nine-story mixed-use building in the heart of Blackstone on the corner of 37th and Farnam streets.

“The building will consist of 18,000 square feet of commercial space on the Farnam frontage, with a 384-stall parking garage and 161 market rate apartments above,” Principal Clay Vanderheiden said. 

“The parking garage will be condo’d out at the end of the project and purchased by the city of Omaha. This project will provide additional commercial space along the popular Farnam corridor, add needed housing to help cut into the housing deficit that is currently in Omaha, as well as provide parking relief to a dense area in town and should help the local businesses in the area.”

Catalyst Omaha is a $62 million office building in the old Omaha Steel Castings building on the corner of Leavenworth Street and Saddle Creek Road. This project is part of the overall expansion of UNMC’s campus to the west side of Saddle Creek and will house UNeTech and UNeMed, which are effectively the research and development arms of the Med Center. There will also be additional office space in the building as well as a full service restaurant and event space.

“The idea behind this building is modeled after a project our partner on this deal, Koelbel Company, had done in the RiNo district in Denver with the same name,” Vanderheiden said. “This project will ultimately become the hub of health care innovation in Omaha and hopefully result in quite a few companies and technologies that have a positive impact on both Nebraska and the country as a whole.”

The Airport Industrial Project is a $23-million, 200,000-square-foot development near Eppley Airport.

“The Airport Industrial building will also help address the deficit in industrial space in Omaha as well as provide an estimated over 100 jobs to an area with a close vicinity to downtown and north Omaha,” Vanderheiden said.

Since GreenSlate’s first completed project on the corner of 40th and Farnam streets, the Blackstone District has seen more than 30 new, local businesses be created, most of which have been very successful and are still open to this day.

“There’s also the increase to the tax base in Omaha,” Vanderheiden said. “First, through the increased traffic and sales associated with those businesses I just referenced. Second, through the increase in property taxes from the projects we’ve done.”

Once those projects are complete and after the Tax Increment Financing runs off that the firm has used on most projects, Vanderheiden estimates the annual property tax contribution will be around $4.3 million in today’s dollars. The base value of those parcels of land prior to the firm’s projects equate to about $617,000 in annual property taxes.

“We’ve also seen a lot of success with the Cottonwood Hotel coming out of the last two years,” Vanderheiden said. “The Cottonwood has become a place where both locals and visitors come and gives them a taste of the best Omaha has to offer. I believe it’s a strong part of the Omaha tourism scene and will keep people visiting and seeing all that Nebraska has to offer.”

Investing in Startups

Nebraska Angels has played an active role in the Nebraska entrepreneurial ecosystem since 2006, according to Executive Director Stephanie Luebbe.

Nebraska Angels is a network of accredited investors that support local and Midwestern entrepreneurs and early-stage startups with necessary capital. They meet once each month to review business plans, listen to pitches, conduct due diligence and negotiate terms for potential investment.

“Nebraska Angels was founded to support local economic development by building the entrepreneurial community,” Luebbe said. “We believe the creation of jobs,  the increase in salaries paid and revenue generated for the state are important benefactors from the investments made by angel investors. We collect and report on the progress of those metrics on our website.”

According to the organization’s website, Nebraska Angels, on average, invest in eight deals and deploy about $5 million in capital each year.

In addition to capital support, the organization’s members play an active role by mentoring early-stage founders and participating in community events centered around building entrepreneur skill sets and networks.

“For 2022, our group has already deployed over $6 million in funding, investing in nine new startups with eight located in Nebraska,” Luebbe said. “Five existing portfolio companies also received additional funding. Based on our pipeline, our network is expected to set another record year in the total amount of capital deployed and the number of new companies invested in.”