Workshop #4
January 8-9, 2009

Workforce development, both with regard to supporting existing local businesses in the area as well as attracting new businesses and young professionals to the region, was a hot topic at the NSLW workshop in Kearney on January 8 & 9. Communities in the area are searching for ways to match existing workforce to job opportunities. Attracting and retaining a talented young workforce is considered a key to enhancing economic growth in these towns.

Some hurdles to building a strong, young workforce and good job opportunities were determined to be a need for more regional cooperation, costly infrastructure needs for any increases in population and industry, and identifying collaborators.

Among possible approaches to solving these issues are enhanced technological development, which younger workers both want and need, and development of an entrepreneurial/ incubator program on a county-wide basis. Identifying the appropriate collaborators can be another step toward building a talented workforce. Kearney, for instance, has a prominent college in the area, and participants questioned whether UNK students are actively engaged and recruited to stay in the area.

“A recurring theme among our participants was the need for regional cooperation among communities to make sure the right workers are living and working close to employment opportunities,” said facilitator Jay Leighter. “Among the solutions discussed, many participants expressed the need to recruit and retain young workers to the region by developing and renovating the downtowns to accommodate inviting and affordable housing."

Additional amenities needed to attract this demographic of the workforce would include communication technology, including better cellular and wi-fi service, participants concluded. They expressed the need to create entrepreneurial opportunities for young people who can develop the types of businesses that will attract a younger workforce. These new businesses, along with more developed recreational and entertainment activities, would be the catalyst to attracting this younger workforce.

During break-out sessions, one group identified the need for multi-modal transportation to accommodate the workfoce, as well as the need to support existing local businesses while trying to attract new businesses. Access to health care, recreational opportunities, and ensuring air and water quality are also seen as important factors for attracting a viable workforce.

Participants identified some Catch-22s: costly infrastructure is needed in order to build out the affordable housing and business/entrepreneur areas needed to grow the workforce. But the workforce and businesses are needed in order to broaden tax bases to pay for infrastructure improvements. The group looked at sustainable ways to accomplish these tasks.

Workshop facilitator Katie Torpy said one anomaly in the area is Ravenna, population 1,305. Ravenna is a burgeoning community with ample employment in three growing industries there. The town does not have the workforce to keep up with job demand. The plants bus employees in from Kearney, Grand Island and surrounding communities to satisfy their employment needs. Ravenna Mayor Gerald Reimer said the community now finds that they need more upper income dwellings to accommodate management in order to prevent them from living elsewhere and commuting to Ravenna.

Tim Hemsath, architecture professor at University of Nebraska-Lincoln and green building expert, spoke to the group about the importance of incorporating sustainable building techniques in new construction as well as in the rehabbing of existing structures. Carol Schwarz, UNL Extension Educator, spoke about the importance of food quality. Courtney Quinn, of the UNL School of Natural Resources, brought issues of sustainable agriculture to the workshop. And Nebraska Public Power District provided two speakers: Chad Podolak spoke about energy efficiency, and Frank Thompson spoke about alternative energy resources.

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Resources from the
Kearney Workshop

Most of the workshop materials can be downloaded from our Resources and Documents pages. Below are some materials specifically from the consultants and speakers at the Kearney workshop, as well as some who were not there.

Many participants were interested in affordable housing issues, which was not addressed at the workshop. Steve Peregrine, of the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority, provided these contacts for participants:

Community and Rural Development Division
Nebraska Department of Economic Development
Lara Huskey, Director
Paula Rhian, Housing Coordinator

Nebraska Investment Finance Authority
Steve Peregrine, Deputy Director
Community Investments
Jackie Young, Manager
Single Family Program

Below, you can download the presentations from two expert consultants who attended the Kearney workshop.

All Roads Lead to Energy Efficiency, PowerPoint presentation by Chad Podolak of the Nebraska Public Power District

NPPD's Activities in Renewable Energy Development, PowerPoint presentation by Frank Thompson of the Nebraska Public Power District

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