Despite the many challenges facing the U.S. economy over the first half of 2023, Omaha continues to hold its own against inflation while moving growth and development forward at a brisk pace.
“At a high level, the city of Omaha is doing quite well economically speaking, especially compared to some of its peers in the region,” said Ernie Goss, MacAllister Chair and economics professor at Creighton University. “I would say Omaha is outperforming them in overall economic growth. I think Omaha also stands to benefit in the future as the outlook is pretty strong compared to other cities in the region and outside the region.”
Goss said Omaha benefits from a diverse business community as one bulwark against swings in the economy.
“The growth hasn’t been concentrated in any one area, it’s pretty broad-based,” he said. “That speaks to the diversity of businesses in the community and not really depending on any one or a few large companies. A lot of medium to small businesses are also growing at a pretty good pace.”
According to the Greater Omaha Chamber, Omaha’s growth can be seen in job creation (up 16% between 2020 and 2022), non-residential construction and investment.
From a development standpoint, non-residential construction in 2023 is up considerably over 2022, based on permit data for the metro area. The Greater Omaha Chamber economic development team has seen significant interest in the area, landing projects worth over $2 billion in capital investment in 2022 and managing a pipeline of potential projects of over $18 billion.
But while such numbers are admirable, they don’t tell the full story of what’s actually going on in Omaha, said City Councilman Pete Festersen.
While acknowledging the many positives of the current economy in Omaha, he also cited serious problems many in the business community are facing due to several factors.
“There’s no doubt inflation and interest rates are impacting people and small businesses,” he said. “I was speaking with a developer just yesterday who has a number of projects throughout the city, and they were quite concerned about increasing building costs.
“I think affordable housing is also a major issue. The city’s Affordable Housing Action Plan is very important to our economic health going forward.”
Festersen pointed to $335 million in public dollars as a potential game-changer to help meet these needs. Those funds, approved by the Unicameral and managed by the state’s Department of Economic Development, are working their way through government channels.
“I think probably the most important thing we can be working on right now is the $335 million appropriated for North and South Omaha pandemic recovery, and focusing on various projects creating economic investment and new jobs in those historically underinvested communities,” he said. “It’s a generational opportunity to address economic disparities we have in the community.”
Such funds would better enable organizations like Canopy South in its work to revitalize neighborhoods in Omaha from several angles.
“We’re hoping by the end of this year we come up with those funds to move ahead in some of the projects we are proposing,” said Cesar Garcia, executive director. “All the projects are in direct response to problems created by the pandemic.
“The No. 1 priority for us right now is the renovation and revitalization of the Southside Terrace area, the largest public housing in the state of Nebraska. No. 2 is creating a high-quality education from early childhood education through graduating from high school with an option to go to higher education. No. 3 is economic vitality, giving opportunities to entrepreneurs and small businesses, helping people be successful.”