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Nebraska Chamber of Commerce hosts annual legislative forum in Columbus

September 19, 2018

Members of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Tuesday hosted their annual legislative forum at the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce.

The State Chamber has been making stops at local chambers of commerce to host these forums for more than 30 years. Columbus was one of many stops on this year’s fall forum tour.

The goal of the event, as stated on the Columbus Chamber’s website, was to gather local business leaders together to share and discuss information about recent state legislation developments impacting the business community.

Bryan Sloane, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce, kicked off the forum with a presentation highlighting what he sees as the biggest issues facing the state, with No. 1 being the decreasing workforce population. He attributed this decline to the declining national birth rate and aging population.

“It is one of those issues that it’s in every city in the state,” Sloane said. “Whether it’s Omaha or Columbus or Scottsbluff or anywhere else, everybody needs more employees qualified to take on jobs. So it’s the biggest issue in the state right now.”

He then introduced Jim Smith, executive director of Blueprint Nebraska. Smith resigned six months before his term as state senator in the unicameral was set to end and headed up the organization in July. He explained Blueprint Nebraska’s goal is to spearhead a statewide economic development initiative.

The organization launched in May and is led by a steering committee comprised of business leaders from across the state. TR Raimondo, chairman of Behlen Manufacturing Co. in Columbus, is one of these people.

The first phase of their initiative is to gather feedback from business leaders statewide through the legislative forum and via an online survey. Smith said the survey launched three weeks ago and so far, 600 people have participated. Anyone can participate in the survey, which is located on the organization’s website. The deadline is the end of October.

“This is a very broad initiative and the proof is really going to be in the pudding,” Smith said about Blueprint Nebraska.“We are making an introduction today. We don’t have information to share so much as we are making an introduction of Blueprint (Nebraska) and telling people how they can share their voice.”

The second phase of the initiative is to develop an economic plan that can be utilized by Nebraska businesses and potentially make its way into state law. Smith said the goal is to have this done by the second quarter of 2019.

Sloane said Blueprint Nebraska is currently in the early planning stages and the organization is trying to be as transparent as possible while it’s developing an economic strategy for the businesses within the state. He said the presentation at the forum was well received and that Columbus could benefit from long-term economic planning.

“This is the kind of community that has a lot going on and so, this is the kind of community where a larger, long-term economic strategy could have some big dividends,” he said.

At the meeting’s end, both Doug Oertwich and Mike Moser were introduced to the crowd. The two are running against each other for the District 22 state legislature seat and each gave a small speech outlining their positions to those in attendance.

Both candidates spoke with The Columbus Telegram after the meeting regarding their thoughts about the forum. Oertwich said it was important to entice Nebraskans to not move to other states in order to maintain the area’s workforce.

“We’re all short, every person I talk to who has a manufacturing (facility) is still looking for people. So we have a lot of jobs here and we need to keep people here and attract more people to these jobs,” he said.

Moser agreed with the problems Sloane outlined within his presentation.

“Workforce is an issue everywhere because people are having fewer children, we just don’t have the population growth, Moser said.” As they age out and retire, we need to replace the workers.”

Both candidates said they planned on participating in the Blueprint Nebraska Community Survey.

Eric Schucht is a reporter for the Columbus Telegram. You can reach him via email at eric.schucht@lee.net

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