Sidney City Council talks workforce, economics in light of ballistic missile project
By Joshua Wood, Stevenson Newspapers
As the Nebraska panhandle continues to prepare for the Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile project, Sidney is still looking for ways to reduce the expected impact, now without the support of Governor Jim Pillen.
Jeff Klare, the economic development director, told Sidney City Council on March 28 he had been contacted by Northrop Grumman, the company overseeing the construction of the ballistic missile system in Kimball. According to Klare, the company had called to ask about the status of the workforce.
"The biggest issue that we're facing is a 3.3% unemployment rate and workforce readiness," said Klare. "Honestly, with a very low unemployment rate, we're all concerned. We've met with some companies and they're concerned that their employees are going to go work for big-time salaries up at the project. We want to assure everyone that has a business here in Sidney that we'll fill the jobs, we'll get the people here."
"When Northrop Grumman called, did you let them know that Governor Pillen seemed to think we'd be just fine?" asked Vice Mayor Roger Gallaway.
At the last meeting of the Sidney City Council, Gallaway had expressed disappointment that Pillen had excluded LB 712-which would have provided impact funding to the Nebraska panhandle-from the state budget. In a letter to the Western Nebraska Observer, Pillen wrote he believed the panhandle wouldn't need impact funding from the state. In that same letter, Pillen wrote employees of Northrop Grumman would be remanded to the project with little contact with the public.
According to Gallaway, Northrop Grumman was only part of the equation. Citing a conversation he had with a representative from the company, Gallaway said local businesses would be impacted as ancillary aspects of the project. One example given by Gallaway was the replacement of tires on construction vehicles, which would require more employees for local tire companies.
"That's the part that's being lost on the state, I feel," said Gallaway.
Gallaway's thoughts appear to be shared by Senator Steve Erdman. In a column published in the March 23 Sidney Sun-Telegraph, Erdman wrote he and Senator Brian Harding had received different responses from Northrop Grumman than what Pillen had apparently been given.
"According to Northrup Grumman, they have "current plans for weekend busses to bring some of the workforce into various towns in the region to shop, see a movie, grab a bite to eat, attend church, etc.," wrote Erdman. "We also learned that ten to twenty percent of the workforce needed to complete the work would come from local communities."
According to City Manager David Scott, Erdman was pursuing a bit of a "hail mary" in attaching LB 712 to a bill from the appropriations committee which would provide state funding to Omaha and eastern Nebraska. At least one member of the public proposed alternative ideas in case that attempt were to fail.
Ann Siebel told the governing body she believed there were ways in which Sidney could still use the incoming project to benefit the city. One proposal by Siebel was to apply through the United States Air Force to be a depot-level facility.
"That means, during the project, items can be transferred here for repair," said Siebel.
She added that the workforce needed for such a facility could be educated and trained through the Western Nebraska Community College campus in Sidney. Siebel said Sidney also had the opportunity to bring in money on the weekend by becoming a destination for workers.
"I'd rather pull that entertainment dollar into Sidney," said Siebel. "I think it can even incorporate a revitalization of Highway 30 in a unique way."
The next meeting of the Sidney City Council will be at 5:30 p.m. on April 11 at Sidney City Hall.