Pictured from left to right: Owen Palm, President & CEO of 21st Century Equipment; Tara Lea, VP of Community Affairs for the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce; Governor Jim Pillen; Roberta Pinkerton, Special Projects Director for DED; Zac Karpf, President of Platte Valley Bank; Greg Dart, President of WNCC

New strategy convenes leaders to design and implement collaborative economic development projects

Today, the Governor’s Office, Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED), and Nebraska Chamber of Commerce & Industry held a press conference in Gering prior to the inaugural meeting of 6 Regions, One Nebraska in the Western Nebraska Community College region.

The initiative is convening leaders in each of Nebraska’s six community college districtsto design and implement collaborative, regional economic development projects. 

“To grow our state, communities have to compete together as Nebraskans—not against each other as rivals,” said Gov. Pillen. “Through 6 Regions, One Nebraska, leaders from neighboring towns and counties are coming together as one. If we look beyond local agendas to the best interests of all Nebraskans, I am confident we can win for our farmers and ranchers, businesses, and kids.”

At the request of Governor Pillen, the Nebraska Legislature allocated $3 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds to DED this year to fund the regional effort. The State financial investment, supplemented by private dollars, is helping to establish a core work team in each region. DED-administered grant funding is also supporting research on the workforce, housing, childcare, and educational resources within each region. Dr. Josie Schafer, director of the Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Nebraska Omaha, is leading the research initiative and presenting data to each regional team.

“Rural Nebraska’s youth want what we have to offer—public safety, family-friendly communities, and good schools,” said Roberta Pinkerton, Special Projects Director for DED. “We don’t have to reinvent ourselves to attract them. DED is committed to support the Western Nebraska Community College region as it connects graduates and new residents to great careers in the Panhandle.”

The State’s financial investment in 6 Regions, One Nebraska will also provide financial incentive for regional projects in one of the following areas:

  • Resident Recruitment
  • Youth Engagement
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Technology
  • Infrastructure
  • Selected Regional Project

“Nebraskans’ work ethic, integrity, and loyalty are unmatched,” said Owen Palm, President & CEO of 21st Century Equipment and co-chair for the region.  “The quality of our people gives us a significant strategic advantage. I look forward to partnering together in the Panhandle so that we can grow our communities and make productivity gains as a region.”

Each regional team is meeting twice annually for work sessions. The biannual gatherings will include a presentation of data to inform regional decision-making. Each region will also conduct asset mapping to identify the strengths it can draw on to drive growth.

“I’m really excited to explore ways we can strengthen our rural, ag-based economy in western Nebraska,” said Zac Karpf, President of Platte Valley Bank and regional co-chair. “It’s great to be part of an initiative that’s bringing together so many talented leaders. We appreciate the State’s investment in our region, and the Governor’s commitment to growing all of Nebraska.”

The goal of the 6 Regions, One Nebraska initiative is to catalyze cooperation among communities so that regional partnerships become the norm for how Nebraska pursues economic development.

“It’s crazy to see how much Nebraska is growing, and we have amazing opportunities to build on this momentum,” said Tara Lea, Vice President of Community Affairs for the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce. “To make the most of this moment, we need each other. It will take all hands on deck to attract new residents, solve housing shortages, and add childcare capacity. Together, I’m confident we have the ingenuity and tenacity to succeed.”

The Western Nebraska region is the third area of the state to launch 6 Regions, One Nebraska. The Mid-Plains Community College region held its initial meeting on May 14th, and the Southeast Community College region met on June 21st.

Today’s work session was held at the Gering Civic Center. Among the participants were leaders from Western Nebraska Community College (WNCC). The state’s community colleges are key members of 6 Regions, One Nebraska.

“Western Nebraska Community College is dedicated to helping our communities build and sustain success,” said WNCC President Greg Dart. “We’re ready to innovate and take risks to overcome the challenges we face. I don’t think there’s ever been a better time to be living in western Nebraska. As we come together as a region, there’s enormous potential for us to shape the future of the Panhandle.”