Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communication, Department of


Strategic Discussions for Nebraska

Date of this Version


Document Type



Strategic Discussions for Nebraska

College of Journalism and Mass Communications

133 Andersen Hall

University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Lincoln, Nebraska 68588-0443


Copyright University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Nebraskans like where they live. Young and old, they like the

“sense of place” they feel here. They like being part of the legendary

work ethic. They like the fact that, for the most part, they

feel safe here. They like the fact that Nebraska agriculture helps

to feed and power the world.

But when people from other states ask them where they’re

from, they sound apologetic. The Strategic Discussions for

Nebraska team heard variations on that theme everywhere we

went. Caleb Pollard, Executive Director of the Ord Chamber of

Commerce said it best: “we need for Nebraskans to be proud.”

Nebraska is a conservative state, both politically and fiscally.

It is constitutionally required to balance the state budget. It is

also a state with only 1.7 million people, so there are few people

to share the property tax burden. Additionally, Nebraska doesn’t

have mineral resources that some states tax heavily, relieving the

property tax burden on individuals. However, Nebraska’s sales

and income taxes are about the same as its peer states, a fact that

is often overlooked when people share concerns about taxes.

One of the state’s main concerns is the declining work force,

particularly in greater Nebraska. This magazine contains several

stories that refer to the work force shortage and the challenges

faced by communities that desperately need workers.

Nebraska’s Strong Agricultural Base

Agriculture has changed in the last century, but it’s a booming

business and Nebraskans are knowledgeable about those

changes. They know the state is well-suited to growing highquality

crops and animals, and they know people in the rest of

the world want to buy them. They know the University of Nebraska’s

research has been important for Nebraska agriculture,

and they support the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Nebraska

Innovation Campus, which will be built in Lincoln on the site of

the Nebraska State Fair when the fair moves to Grand Island in


Nebraska exported nearly $5.5 billion dollars worth of agricultural

and manufactured goods in 2008. That’s up from $3.6

billion in 2006 and $4.2 billion in 2007. According to Greg

Ibach, Director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture,

exports bring the state a steady flow of domestic and international

sales and allow the state to remain strong during financial

cycles that affect the U.S. and other countries. Nebraska

is fortunate to have not only the natural resources to produce

some of the best agricultural products – and can source

the needed parts and material for the manufactured products

– but also has the people with the needed background,

knowledge, experience and work ethic to produce the quality

products, Ibach said.

Importance of Education and Technology

There are no greater proponents of education than people in

greater Nebraska. The state’s education system is good and is

one of the drawing cards for businesses interested in locating

in the state.

Nebraskans know that jobs today and in the future will require

more knowledge of technology in all its forms. Whether

people work in information technology in Omaha, farm near

Cozad, ranch near Mullen, read x-rays in Ord, work on locomotives

in Alliance or conduct research in one of dozens of

locations in the state, they’ll have to know technology.

Technology requires consistent broadband access and

capacity that statewide, Nebraska just doesn’t have. A conversation

participant who lives outside North Platte told us

her satellite gives her access to the Internet “as long as it isn’t

cloudy.” That isn’t good enough for the needs of rural health

care, business development, education or for attracting young

people to smaller communities.


If a state doesn’t have good infrastructure, it closes doors to

economic development and therefore, growth.

Infrastructure necessary for every viable community includes

water, sewer, electricity, roads and Internet access. Additional

infrastructure needs are schools, health care facilities,

power plants, transportation and communication.

It’s expensive to build these things and expensive to maintain

existing facilities. Dr. Doug Kristensen, Chancellor of the

University of Nebraska-Kearney, told us many of the state’s

school buildings were built about the same time – about 100

years ago – and are beginning to crumble, requiring extensive

and costly repairs or replacement.

Changing Nebraska’s Layout?

The Strategic Discussions for Nebraska team interviewed

a number of people who believe Nebraska should change its

county structure.

Ninety-three counties were needed when people had to use

a horse and buggy to get to the county seat, but some say the

state could save money if the counties were merged, creating

about 15 larger counties. Others say there would be few dollars

in savings and would widen the gap between greater Nebraska

and eastern Nebraska in accessibility to services.

Others suggest a “hub and spoke” regional layout, in which

one town would be the hub and about 10 or 12 smaller communities

would be the spokes. Trouble is, everybody wants to

be the hub.

What makes the most sense? Send your opinion to me at We’ll post the results on the Strategic Discussions

for Nebraska website:

Leadership and Cooperation

People told us the state and communities need strong leaders

who are willing to partner with other organizations, communities,

states and countries for the good of Nebraska as a

whole. It also needs leaders who will consider the needs of the

entire state, regardless of money, power or special interests.

In this magazine, you will find a variety of perspectives on

Nebraska’s economy, including the opinions of state and community

leaders, academics, business owners and government

officials. Each opinion has value, based on the person’s experience,

education, location and economic condition.