Commitment to the Future: Capital Projects, Community Partnerships Propel the Midlands

By its very definition, investing refers to dedicating time, money, effort, and energy to particular undertakings or sources with an eye on future growth, profit, and otherwise enriching outcomes.

Similarly, Midlands organizations serving the health care, sports, technology, education, ag, and construction industries are re-investing in the community in ways that are as multi-faceted and expansive as the stakeholders and services supported by their respective teams.

The Future of Health Care

Creighton University President Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson referred to a “significant brain gain” with 80% of its enrollment coming from outside of Nebraska and a reported 50% of graduates remaining in the state.

“Along with the talent we bring into the state, we play a crucial role in bolstering the economy of Omaha and the wider Midwest region,” Hendrickson said. “Our annual gross economic impact is approaching $1 billion and, from 2015 to 2025, investments by Creighton and our partners in Omaha’s urban core will total $500 million.”

The university has made several investments to enhance the state’s educational landscape and health care infrastructure, starting with its sustainable, tech-focused Graves Hall (for first-year students) and the CL and Rachel Werner Center for Health Sciences Education to strengthen the pipeline of professionals by providing students with access to next-gen simulation spaces and interprofessional education.

In the upcoming spring semester, he added that Creighton Jesuits will affirm their active presence in the community by relocating to a new residence following the recent revitalization of the 24th Street Corridor (between Cass and Cuming streets) in collaboration with the city. Both city and state partnerships are in the works, including improvements to the NCAA Men’s College World Series, and green space and safety features for pedestrians and bicyclists.

A decade of “robust enrollment” and evolving needs are keen drivers.

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“With the majority of our first-year class majoring in health sciences and over 3,100 students enrolled in a health sciences school or college, we are investing to meet the growing demand and need in this field,” he stated. “Outside of Omaha, our innovative 3+1 dual degree nursing program at our campus in Grand Island has seen much success.”

Originally established with Hastings College, the program has expanded to York University, Wayne State College and Concordia University.

Outside of the health sciences, strong growth in its Heider College of Business program is fueling several new courses; for instance, Hendrickson referred to its pioneering fintech degree program in partnership with First National Bank of Omaha.

Further investment in the community includes programs such as the “Sick and Tired” project, which emphasizes mental health, and the Financial Hope Collaborative, as well as partnerships with organizations such as 75 North and its Highlander Accelerator.

Its School of Dentistry and School of Law also maintain community clinic and legal services. And, last month, Creighton announced its Institute for Population Health initiative to address equity and access issues within the community and health care at large.

“This institute embodies our mission of service and the roots of Jesuit humanism by uniting our students, faculty and staff with partners to identify solutions that enhance individual well-being and eliminate systemic barriers to health equity,” Hendrickson explained. “Collaborating with CHI Health and CyncHealth, we will leverage data and engage influential community sectors to improve health care outcomes throughout Nebraska.”

Bump, Set, Spike

League One Volleyball (LOVB) is set for success in the Omaha market, announcing in August that the metro would become home to a professional team – joining teams in Madison, Houston, Atlanta and Salt Lake City.

“We believe in the power of this market – and for good reason,” said co-founder and CEO Katlyn Gao. “Nebraska’s deep history of volleyball fandom is exemplified in its record-breaking collegiate attendance records. The market has bred incredible athletes, whom we are strongly tied to. Our robust pro roster includes Justine Wong-Orantes and Kelsey Robinson, who both hail from the University of Nebraska.”

Gao also referenced established relationships with Nebraska NIL (name, image and likeness) compensated athletes. Familiar names include Lindsay Krause, Lexi Rodriguez, Harper Murray and Norah Sis.

“These athletes will connect with the local LOVB clubs, through in-person clinics and appearances as well as virtual connections,” she said. “Prior to LOVB, club-to-college players would have to go overseas to continue their careers. But we are changing that entire paradigm. Omaha is the perfect market for us to help club to college players carve out an all-new path to pro.”

As the pro league team takes the stage, Gao said it will integrate into programming for its club, Premier Nebraska. Premier Nebraska is the highest-ranked club with an all-female leadership group and one of only three clubs in 2023 to qualify a team in the highest division of each age group for USAV Girls Junior Nationals.

“This means our pro athletes will train alongside Premier’s players, giving club athletes the opportunity to learn from, witness and build even stronger ties with pro players they admire,” she explained.

At launch, the league will reportedly start with six teams in six cities. The pre-season (with scrimmages, friendlies, and exhibitions) kicks off next November before moving into the main season with official games the following January, running through April.

“While volleyball is the fastest growing women’s team sport in the U.S., attracting record-selling crowds in college arenas and prompting millions of people to tune-in to Olympic and NCAA games broadcast on-air, it’s wild to think that there was no professional league in the U.S.,” Gao stated. “Investors, athletes and organizations all knew that it was time for this to change.”

Creighton University recently opened Graves Hall, a residence for new students. (Courtesy of Creighton University)
Creighton University recently opened Graves Hall, a residence for new students. (Courtesy of Creighton University)

A decades-in-the-making venture, Gao said it started with Title IX, the landmark gender equity legislation of 1972.

“But we have an advantage – we don’t need to put energy in parity,” she said. “There is no ‘W’ in our league name. Instead, we are building major league volleyball from the ground up and how we are doing it is unlike anyone else in the space.”

Furthermore, Gao referenced flipping the script, building leagues with a community-first instead of a top-down approach.

“We are being deliberate and disciplined in the markets we choose, tying our pro teams to our clubs to create an ecosystem of fandom from the get-go as our pro players become even more familiar and accessible to our club players and the community at large,” she added.

Empowering Through Tech

Google first broke ground in Nebraska in 2019 with its data center in Papillion and, across the river, it has called Iowa “home” since 2007.

Commitments in the Midlands reportedly total upwards of $5 billion in the Council Bluffs facilities (including a recent additional $350 million investment in Iowa) and ground-breaking on a second data center in Northwest Omaha. In fact, the Council Bluffs center represents one of Google’s largest facilities.

Furthermore, it was announced in August that it has made a $1.2 billion investment in Nebraska and plans to build a third data center in Lincoln, with monies being directed toward powering Google Cloud, Gmail, Search, ongoing artificial intelligence innovations, and other digital services.

To date, more than $3.4 billion has been invested to fuel full-time and external supplier roles in both states. Its efforts can be felt beyond Google’s walls; according to information provided by the company, it has supported $5.7 billion in economic activity for thousands of Nebraska and Iowa businesses, including nonprofits and creatives, with 289,000 organizations connecting with customers using Google’s free tools for phone calls, bookings, and other interactions.

It has also awarded $5-plus million to local schools and nonprofits in the past 14 years. Local representatives also highlighted efforts to address barriers to economic opportunity not limited to the build-out of reportedly one of the largest free public Wi-Fi networks in the country.

“Both Iowa and Nebraska have welcomed Google to the community,” said Allie Hopkins, head of data centers, Iowa and Nebraska. “We have built strong partnerships with community leaders, found a workforce full of exceptional talent and found remarkable access to renewable resources within the utility infrastructure — all of which make Iowa and Nebraska great places to build.”

Building Careers

JE Dunn Construction is leaving its mark on the built environment locally through significant projects such as Sarpy County Correctional Center, La Vista City Park Central Pavilion and Nebraska MultiSport Complex. Such efforts resulted in being named Business of the Year by the Sarpy County Chamber.

“We also have many employees who share time and resources serving on boards and sponsoring events in the community,” said VP Doug Duren. “With significant professional involvement and nearly 30% of our team living in the area, we have deep ties to Sarpy County.”

Superintendent Joe Hansen also isolated how the firm is leaving its mark on the industry by investing significant resources in promoting building trades as an alternative career path to the traditional four-year degree.

“We have a team that travels to campuses and classrooms to educate K-to-12 students about what the trades offer,” he said. “JE Dunn also understands that there is a great opportunity to help develop up-and-coming women- and minority-owned businesses in our market in order to help shrink the workforce gap.”

Construction of The Astro Theater in La Vista City Centre, which was recently completed. (JE Dunn)
Construction of The Astro Theater in La Vista City Centre, which was recently completed. (JE Dunn)

To accomplish this, the Nebraska team launched the Minority Contractor Development Program.

Grown in Nebraska

Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture’s Recruiting and Communications Coordinator, Andela Taylor, noted several growing programs including the equine industry management program, the agricultural production systems major, and training at the NCTA meat lab and University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Loeffel Meat Laboratory.

The latter opportunity is the outgrowth of an examination of the training challenges faced by processors, which was hosted at NCTA’s Curtis campus and included UNL faculty and 28 private sector reps.

“The industry emphasized that it would go a long way if potential hires had a baseline understanding of the industry and potential paths before they started their employment, along with some preliminary training in essential skills,” said NCTA Dean Larry Gossen.

“For plants both large and small, such a program would alleviate some of the initial burden of training and would help them better-fit applicants to a position where they would be successful.”

Collectively, the Nebraska Department of Education reported that 80% of seventh- through 12th-grade students participated in career and technical education (CTE) courses from 2020-2021.

“One of the most encouraging findings was the 29% of Nebraska high school students who concentrated on CTE coursework,” she said.