The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Forrest Hershberger
Publisher Sidney Sun-Telegraph 

Planning Economic Recovery

Nebraska Chamber of Commerce Hosts Virtual Fall Forum

 

October 14, 2020



When life gets challenging, Nebraskans come together.

The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce held its Fall Forum via Zoom conference from Western Nebraska Community College in Scottsbluff on Oct. 7. Wednesday's teleconference was part of a series of Zoom meetings.

Thursday's virtual forum included Nebraska Chamber President Bryan Slone and Blueprint Nebraska President Jim Smith.

The Fall Forum was named “Straight Talk with State Leaders,” designed to inspire community dialogue on economic development and workforce needs.

In introducing the forum, Slone gave an overview of what the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce does. He said Nebraska Chamber represents businesses across the state in the State Legislature. He said while his background is in taxes and tax regulation, the priority lately is the workforce.

Discussion during the forum included the impact of the coronavirus and where the state's economy was before the virus, as well as how to move forward from its current state. Slone said during the pre-pandemic period, the economy nationally and in Nebraska were at a high. Businesses had 30,000 jobs they couldn't fill.

“What's been interesting in Nebraska is we have not had as much of an effect,” he said.

He said one of the elements that helped the tax base in the State approving taxation on internet sales..

“Had the Legislature not passed internet tax, the impact would have been worse,” he said.

Nebraska has experienced the advantage of banks quickly processing Paycheck Protection Program loans, the “phenomenal” health care in the state and that the government did not enact a stay in place order. The state's industry makeup of agriculture and manufacturing also helped the keep the state's economy afloat, according to Slone.

“Nebraska is in a very unique position that other states may not,” he said.

He added childcare is an issue, but believes there will be an increase in the number of employees who will work remotely. Additionally, Nebraska is working to build new supply chains in the state. To do that, the workforce is going to be a big issue.

“It is really important that we have more people moving in than moving out,” he said.

He added that historically the state has seen workforce growth of less than 1 percent.

The state's infrastructure, specifically broadband, is also part of the equation.

He added Nebraska has a strong culture of local control. He said local government has a lot of control compared to other states.

“We have a tremendous opportunity coming out of this,” he said.

Getting through the coronavirus impact will require everyone working together, according to Slone.

“We're going to have to connect rural and urban like we haven't before,” he said.

Jim Smith of Blue Print Nebraska also spoke in the forum. Smith gave a review of the Blue Print Nebraska program from 2018's statewide plan for economic growth, competitiveness and prosperity.

“We never could have imagined the events of 2020,” Smith said.

He also talked about the supply chains, noting there is greater emphasis to develop shorter supply chains. He also said there is a growing trend for work-from-home employment, and stressed the need for better broadband. He said Blue Print Nebraska is going to take on more of a role to convene, collaborate and connect. Growth themes include people, government, places and sectors. He also said the tax code needs to be modernized to reflect the economy we want to become.

Gov. Pete Ricketts recently announced several grants for development of broadband across the state.

Slone referred to his selling experience, saying the state needs to market itself better.

“There are beautiful sites in the state. We need to market it,” he said.

He added the coronavirus is presenting an opportunity for Nebraska's communities to market themselves.

“I think our greatest successes in the future will be imagined at the local level,” Smith added.

 

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