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By Dan Carlson
Prairie Ponderings 

Innovative Economic Development Strategy Works


My column in these pages has been missing the last three weeks because my wife and I took a road trip to Virginia Beach to see our children, whom we’ve not seen in nearly two years.

Our travels took us through West Virginia, a state with both some incredible scenery and a decent shot at becoming home to a significant number of firearm and ammunition companies.

In a bold move to lure gun and ammo makers to West Virginia, the state passed into law a measure that does two things: it offers generous tax credits for companies that manufacture ammunition and firearms, and it also makes guns and ammunition purchased in West Virginia exempt from state sales taxes.

The state already has a large number of hunters and shooting sports enthusiasts, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this law pulls in some new residents from nearby Virginia and Maryland, which are becoming increasingly hostile places for gun owners to live.

Hunters and shooters have been stung by both ammunition scarcity and price increases on what ammo is available. West Virginia just gave hunters and shooters a six-percent price cut. But it’s not just gun owners who will benefit.

West Virginia is drastically reducing costs for gun and ammo makers who will set up shop in the state by slashing taxes on certain kinds of machinery and equipment. State Delegate Gary Howell, (R) District 56, was quoted in a number of news outlets last weekend as giving the example that a $1 million piece of equipment used in gun or ammo making will be taxed as if it were a $50,000 piece of equipment. Incentives like that will get some attention from overtaxed, over-regulated gun makers looking for a new home.

Eastern Nebraska is rapidly becoming the Silicon Valley of the Midwest. Tech companies and tech innovators are flocking to Lincoln and Omaha. But what about us out here in the Panhandle? Are the wide-open plains and low population an incentive to any particular industry? You bet.

Private-sector aerospace is exploding (in some unfortunate cases, literally) as innovators such as Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos continue to pour billions into space travel.

Did you know the FAA has already approved 12 spaceports in the U.S. and is close to approving a 13th in Camden County, Georgia? What’s more, only one (Houston Spaceport) is located in a major city.

The long runways needed to accommodate returning private spacecraft require significant amounts of open areas. We’re alone in the end zone waving on that count.

Some will argue the Panhandle’s weather extremes make it unsuitable for such a facility. I disagree. In fact, the changeable weather here is an asset for innovators wanting to conduct preliminary testing on equipment destined for windy environments and extremes of hot and cold found on other planets.

Our area is perfect for testing and development of in-atmosphere aircraft and avionics for the same reasons. Drone technology is taking off (pun intended) and we just saw last week the first successful airport to airport flight of a flying car certified for both air and road operations.

The sky’s the limit on where the next generation of civil aviation can take us, so let’s get a ticket and get in line. West Virginia may have just cornered the market on gun manufacturing.

Let’s see Nebraska work with Panhandle counties to do the same in aviation and aeronautics with innovative, bold and forward-thinking strategies of our own.


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