No Place Like Nebraska: Community Rallies Around Local Businesses

There’s nothing like the state of Nebraska. Residents say its hometown feel is something that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Its wide-open spaces, genuinely friendly folks, supportive business landscape, and lower cost of living are just some of the reasons why people love living and working here.

The History

In March of 1867, Nebraska was officially added to the Union as the 37th state. Homesteaders began settling into the state around that time and because of its incredibly rich farmland, people of all kinds began building their lives and businesses here.
The unique combination of entrepreneurship and modernization in Nebraska is something that continues to remain steady.

Today, Nebraska has distinguished itself as a leading grain-producer, with a variety of bountiful crops like corn and wheat, and the manufacturing industry has also become diverse.

Pharmaceutical companies, meat-packing centers, technology companies, auto accessory producers, and other companies have been able to build successful businesses here throughout the years.

At the same time, small businesses are thriving, too. Marketing firms, creative agencies, local mom-and-pop retail shops, and everything in between are all part of Nebraska’s charm.

Nebraska Loves Entrepreneurs

Andrew Prystai, CEO and co-founder of Event Vesta, shared that the communities in Nebraska have played a crucial part in his company’s growth and he believes that they wouldn’t have been able to replicate that sense of support anywhere else.

“Entrepreneurship and innovation have been in Nebraska’s spirit from the beginning, starting with people moving here in pursuit of a better life, through the pioneers of business, technology, and medicine that we see shaping our community — and the world — every day,” Prystai said.

“I would say that there is no better place to start a business than Nebraska because of the community support you see for local businesses, the amount of hardworking people, and the ability to stretch your limited resources extremely far here.”

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“Nebraska is incredibly supportive of its entrepreneurs,” said Colin Nabity, CEO and co-founder of Breeze. “Companies and entrepreneurs support each other and root for one another. We’re all proud to be representing Nebraska, and we all keep it as an integral part of our respective identities.”

Even as the business community continues to face uncertainty due to the pandemic, business owners believe that the community’s care and support of businesses big and small is what allows for a continually thriving community.

Katie Lakin, owner of Little Mango Boutique and co-founder of A Local Collective, which helps connect small business owners through networking, education, and events, explained that their goal is to amplify the voices of small shops around Nebraska.

“Overall, we are in a scary time with perhaps more uncertainty than ever before,” she said. “However, one thing we’ve seen is the people of Nebraska rally around small businesses during the past few years.

“In our communities and throughout the state, small businesses seem to be well received, many people want to shop small before choosing some of the bigger box businesses.

Nebraskans are very resilient and seem to pivot well when taking into account the status of our state and nation.”

Nebraska’s Opportunities Abound

No More Empty Pots, an organization which was founded by four friends in Omaha who wanted to help provide more support for urban agriculture in addition to opening a commercial kitchen for shared use, has been able to make an intergenerational community impact since opening 13 years ago. So far, it has helped connect groups and individuals through advocacy and action, ultimately addressing regional food security and economic resilience of communities in the state.

“Nebraska is full of opportunity,” said Nancy Williams, co-founder, president and CEO, of the organization. “It has opportunities to grow, learn and progress as many Midwestern cities. There is a combination of intersecting resources that has the potential to catalyze transformation in unfathomable ways.

“Businesses engaged in and ushering in this kind of change have the potential to amplify innovative and creative solutions. Nebraska is unique in the vast number of resources and opportunities available to fully realize the potential of the people and sustainable, replicable and viable solutions.”

Nebraska’s Business Landscape

Nebraska is made up of more than 77,000 miles and while much of that is spread out, the communities within that space are tight-knit and proudly unite in support of one another. This is not just true for individuals and families, but it’s especially true when it comes to businesses and organizations that have put down roots in the state.

Nabity said Omaha is home to a lot of insurance talent. For Nabity, it made sense to build and scale the company — an insurance technology business headquartered in Omaha’s Aksarben neighborhood — here before taking it national.

“While we are a hybrid team with great employees from coast to coast, most of our employees are based right in Nebraska,” he shared. “An important part of our mission is to keep the best talent right here in the state of Nebraska.”

While some industries in the state are having difficulty — mainly due to the pandemic in the last few years — the current climate for business owners is generally healthy and quite strong.

“The current climate is very good for business owners in Nebraska in certain sectors. There are some industries that are struggling. And there are some that have ample opportunities and not enough workers or businesses to handle the demand. Find the need that you can uniquely serve profitably, devise a plan and get after it,” Williams said.

Dave Lakin, CEO of VirtuActive agreed, saying the climate for businesses in the state right now is very strong.

“Most peers I know that own businesses are all experiencing growth at this time,” he said. “Growth, especially rapid growth, presents its own challenges, but they are positive ones and is a reflection of the overall climate in Nebraska.”

Dave Lakin, whose company drafts and designs new construction homes, remodels, additions, and basement finishes using 3D software, believes part of the reason for Nebraska’s growth and successful businesses in the area is due to the state’s lower cost of living.

Another positive benefit, he noted, is that it has also been named a popular place to raise families.

“One of the greatest parts about being in Nebraska is the cost of living. I think that the affordable cost of living, excluding property taxes, has had a large part in helping

VirtuActive grow so quickly these last few years. Many people have moved from the coasts to the Midwest, with Nebraska being one of the most popular states to relocate to,” he said.

“Fortunately, this has only led to growth within our industry. The affordability of living, the cost of building space in Nebraska versus the coasts, and the Midwest work ethic and values of the people are why, I believe, more and more companies are having success here and expanding or relocating here. You tend to get the ‘best of both worlds’ in Nebraska — stay in the cities for a faster paced lifestyle or move out west for a slower, small-town experience. Which is what makes Nebraska such a great place for our company, we can help people no matter where they are, design their dream home.”

Uniting Aspiring Business Owners

There’s no doubt about it: taking the leap to open a business or launch a product or idea that you have been sitting on is scary no matter what state you live in. Business ownership is complex and requires dedication, passion, and an unwavering commitment to weather whatever storm comes your way.

But, in Nebraska, new business owners or entrepreneurs have access to a community of people that are there to support them. While it may not be realistic for people to shop small all the time, the ‘shop local’ trend is something that many Nebraskans have committed to for the most part. This is good news for people looking to build a successful business.

Jill Dudzinski, owner of Hello Ruby and co-founder of A Local Collective, Recommended that Nebraskans continue to make a conscious effort to support their local businesses not only with dollars, but with their words.

“We encourage people to use the 80/ 20 rule,” she explained. “Try to be cognizant about your spending and try to focus 20% of your spending on small businesses. That’s it. When we are more intentional with how we spend our dollars and make sure to support local, small businesses, we can make a difference.

“Also, remember that supporting small business doesn’t always have to cost anything – sharing a business by word of mouth is huge. Or when you’re scrolling social media, take a quick second to engage with the small businesses you follow — likes, comments, shares — they cost nothing, but they help small businesses more than you know.”

For aspiring entrepreneurs or business owners who are considering opening a company, Williams said, “If you have vision and can visualize it, are clear about your ‘why’ for doing it, have the numbers to support it and a champion to help you build it, then go for it. The only thing that you have to lose is time in actually getting to the real problem that you are here to solve.”

Nabity made it simple: “I would say go for it! Nebraska is a great place to launch a business. And if you do go for it, become involved with the Nebraska-business community, because there are so many helpful people and resources out there that are willing to help you grow.”

Prystai reiterated the importance of surrounding yourself with a supportive community of like-minded people that want to see you succeed.

“There’s nowhere else in the world where you can meet with the founder of a $1 billion valuation company for coffee, and the CEO of a Fortune 500 for lunch, and a fellow entrepreneur for dinner and all of them are willing to selflessly help you because they believe in supporting our community,” he said. “I’ve been in other startup ecosystems and never seen anything like that before.”

There’s No Place Like Home

The beauty of Nebraska is unmatched and for many people, it is a place that they love calling home. The people that make up this wonderful place will continue to be the driving force behind Nebraska establishing itself as a place of connectivity and economic growth.
“Small business ownership is hard. It can be scary, because often you are on your own or have a very small team and it’s a financial commitment that takes a lot of time to build your business,” Dudsinski said. “But if you believe in what you can provide, you absolutely have to take the risk. The risk most often outweighs the reward.

“But be smart and realistic about it — it’s going to take time, it’s going to be hard, but it’s also so rewarding and fun when you’re doing something you love. Have a business plan, make sure to understand the state and federal requirements for starting a business, find business confidantes (even if it’s not in the same field) that you can bounce ideas off of, and involve yourself in your community — personally and in business.”

“Nebraska’s demographic is changing, as is most of this country,” Williams said. “When we recognize, honor and engage our unique talents and strengths for our collective good, we demonstrate that even though Nebraska may not be for everyone, it is a special place that Nebraskans call home. Nebraska still represents potential.”