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School is back. The hustle & bustle of getting kids in and out of the door, the nonstop errands, the football games and homework assignments; all of these activities mark the beginning of a brand new school year. While my kids are no longer living at home, the end of summer marks the beginning of a new season for me as well. I have been busy examining the effects of the state’s new assessment exams, continuing education and improvements on economic development in Nebraska, and involvement with national efforts where Nebraska plays a part.
As many of you continue to adjust to the new school year, you may notice a change in the way that high school juniors are receiving assessment exams. Because of adjustments to the state’s testing procedure implemented by LB930 (2016) this year, juniors in high school will only be required to take the ACT or similar college prep test, such as the SAT. This will move many school districts away from the Nebraska State Accountability test, or NeSA, toward college entrance exams.
The Governor and I recently hosted a town hall at WNCC’s Harms Technology Center in Scottsbluff, discussing property taxes and hearing from constituents. Additionally, both the Governor and I have been part of a larger effort to realize Nebraska’s economic strengths and overcome its challenges since we took office last year. This year, I joined the Legislature’s Venture Development & Innovation Task Force, created by LB1083 (2016). Part of our work includes developing policy recommendations to spur economic development in Nebraska and hearing from the community on how Nebraska can improve.
There are some very strong segments in Nebraska that will be part of this growth. Take for instance Blue Prairie Brands, which has operations in Gering. Blue Prairie Brands has become a burgeoning part of the chicory industry by patenting and producing these plants, which are used in a number of food, coffee, and medicine products. I expect that in the future the biosciences & agriculture industries will experience some growth in the Panhandle, as other companies like Blue Prairie Brands find the Panhandle’s climate perfect for chicory and other operations.
Nebraska has a unique number of sectors where it is strong: agriculture, food processing, biosciences, trucking & logistics, and a flourishing “silicon prairie” or tech sector. In order to develop these industry sectors, it is essential that the Nebraska Legislature examine the effectiveness of its economic development initiatives. As a sitting member of the Appropriations Committee, I was part of a joint committee hearing between the Revenue and Appropriations Committees to examine the effectiveness of the Department of Economic Development’s tax credits and incentives. One such example of these economic development incentives is the Nebraska Advantage Microenterprise Tax Credit, which provides a refundable tax credit to small businesses for increased investment in their communities.
But there are certainly challenges that face Nebraska, as many of you have experienced already. Commodity prices have fluctuated, putting strain on our agricultural producers and the general economy forces rural Nebraskans to make tough decisions. The old adage goes something like this: “necessity is the mother of invention.” Because of the economic situation we find ourselves in, we must look at ways that Nebraska can adapt to these conditions. That was the theme of the Federal Reserve’s most recent visit to Gering. According to the Fed, we are seeing a “divergence” in our economy which is upending traditional models such as manufacturing and replacing it with other sectors like information technology. That is why it is important for the State to encourage development in our strong suits.
As the summer is nearing an end, I reflect on the numerous conferences I have attended and see all the great things that other states are doing- and what Nebraska can do to improve. One of the critical topics that has come up during my conference trips is the priority the Heartland Expressway has taken in national transportation and infrastructure. This Federally designated corridor runs from Rapid City in South Dakota, down through the Nebraska Panhandle running through Scottsbluff and to Brush, Colorado, with offshoots running to Torrington in Wyoming and lastly to Denver. It is encouraging for me to see all of the organizations that have become involved in this project, ranging from city and county governments, chambers of commerce, economic development corporations, nonprofits, and other individuals.
Although there are many challenges to overcome, there are also many exciting changes coming to Nebraska. I am confident in the resilience of my constituents, which I have seen firsthand every day in my experience as a community banker. Nebraska is uniquely positioned with its high-quality workforce, great education system, a good business environment, and a great quality of life. With some improvements, Nebraska is poised to grow exponentially.