Lincoln’s Unique Advantage: Economic Strength Beyond National Average

The city of Lincoln had much to celebrate in 2023, from major new construction projects to the nurturing of young professionals and boosting startup companies.

Among the major projects, Google recently announced the construction of a new data center, valued at $600 million, at the intersection of northwest 56th Street and Interstate 80.

“This project will serve as an anchor for the evolving development corridor,” said Luke Peltz, vice president of development for the Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development. “Additional growth in this area of the capital city includes Camping World’s 30,000-square-foot retail location and Central Lumber Sales 122,500-square-foot expansion that consolidates their currently segmented operations into one facility.”

In addition to the booming northeast Lincoln corridor, west Lincoln has been on the rise. The airport-owned and operated LNK Enterprise Park, a 350-plus acre industrial center, has recently announced two new large-scale projects.

“Burrell Aviation is planning a $65 million cargo hub at the Lincoln Airport to expand their operations, citing Lincoln’s strategic geographic location in the middle of the country and the Lincoln Airport’s amenities as reasons for this significant investment,” Peltz said. “Timpte Manufacturing has also elected to grow within Enterprise Park. Their $22 million expansion will feature a 190,000-square-foot manufacturing and distribution warehouse.”

As of September 2023, Lincoln has maintained an unemployment rate of 1.9%, consistently ranking among the lowest in the country, both pre and post-pandemic. According to recent economic data, the city’s average wage was $54,137, a 7.7% increase over the previous year.

“There has been a notable rise in the number of smaller startups gaining traction and securing capital investment,” Peltz said.

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Now in its sixth year, the Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development’s LaunchLNK program continues to bolster the city’s local startup ecosystem. This program has provided seed funding and essential professional resources to 25 distinct startups in Lincoln, with the overarching goal of nurturing their development in the community.

On the whole, Lincoln’s economy is in good shape although housing is beginning to slow because of limited supply and higher interest rates, according to Richard Baier, president and CEO of Nebraska Banker’s Association.

“We continue to see commercial growth in all quadrants of the Lincoln community,” he said. “We’re also seeing growth on the UNL campus, and we’re seeing considerable construction on new projects like the baseball and softball complex, which is being built on the west side of North 180.”

The economy is showing signs of weakness at the macro level in the U.S. as delinquencies pick up and home purchases slow down. But Nebraska traditionally has been more insulated from these massive swings in both upticks and downturns of the economy, so the state isn’t seeing activity slow nearly as quickly as in other parts of the country.

Remote work continues to impact the urban core.

“You continue to see that have an impact on things like the restaurant business and day-to-day business services in the downtown cores,” Baier said. “But what we’ve seen is a resurgence in activity in more of the suburban areas where folks are staying closer to home.”

Agricultural Innovation

The Combine, an incubator for innovators in the food and agriculture industry, helps founders go from an idea to commercialization. Program Director Josh DeMers gave a glimpse into some of the startups currently in the incubator.

“So far we have 18 companies in our incubator and six who are alumni, meaning that they are past incubation, they’ve raised capital and are ready to go out on their own,” DeMers said.

He highlighted some unique Lincoln-based companies that have created innovative and sustainable concepts.

Marble Technologies on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Innovation Campus is working to reduce the labor in meat packing plants through the use of robotics.

Sentinel Fertigation advises farmers on nitrogen usage so they can use less nitrogen in the ground to get the same crop yield. This reduces nitrogen leaking into the water.

Corral Technologies designed cattle collars for grazing. Instead of a fence, these collars can do rotational grazing, keeping the cattle in a specified area.

Thyreos, Inc., is working on a vaccine for preventing herpes infections in livestock, especially in cows. The NUtech startup company of the year award winner recently received a $1.6 million grant.

Although not a startup with The Combine, A+ Berry is working with the food processing center at UNL to create antioxidant drinks, which they call AroJuice, from aronia berries.

“The firm received a $100,000 R&D grant to create the juice, and in September they received an additional $300,000 in that R&D grant,” DeMers said.

Community Advocate

Hudl, which employs more than 3,500, calls Lincoln its home. Part of its efforts to give back to the community includes participating annually in the United Way Campaign across Nebraska, according to Tyler Thomas, senior director of content and PR.

“The United Way campaign addresses diverse community needs, ranging from education to health and financial stability,” he said.

The company was recently awarded United Way’s New Partner award and the Largest Workplace Campaign Percentage Increase award.

Contributing to the workforce, each summer Hudl welcomes over 125 interns, many of whom work from its national headquarters in Lincoln, with 15 to 20 coming from outside of Nebraska for three months. 

The program exposes interns to different environments, facilitating networking and professional growth through diverse experiences.

“It creates a positive impression of the community for interns, potentially attracting future residents and professionals and establishes the company as a contributor to community well-being on a national scale,” he said.

The company recently welcomed 50 Hudl employees from across the world to work from its Lincoln headquarters.