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Nebraska Innovation Network visits Columbus

August 31, 2018

There’s quite a bit of potential for economic development growth in Columbus, according to University of Nebraska officials, and residents can get some help from the Huskers to support their visions.

Seven NU faculty and staff, along with a representative each from Invest Nebraska and the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, representing the Nebraska Innovation Network, spoke with a little over a dozen community leaders and business owners on Wednesday at the Ramada Hotel and River’s Edge Convention Center about the Huskers’ efforts to support communities statewide.

“I think Columbus is really a thriving community. I certainly know there (are) constraints …” said Ryan Anderson, director of industry relations in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Office of Research and Economic Development, noting housing as an ongoing issue. “But there are also a variety of services available that we may have in Lincoln, Omaha or Kearney, across our campuses. We want to build awareness of our statewide business support and innovation resources and connect with leaders across the state, ideally to help advance economic prosperity in Columbus – how it views that and how it wants its economic prosperity to grow. Not how we suggest or prescribe.”

Although not a new concept, University of Nebraska officials from all four of its campuses (Lincoln, Omaha, the medical center in Omaha and Kearney) are taking a proactive approach in reaching out to various communities across the state to talk about the support they offer by visiting them. Columbus was their first official stop.

“I was certainly familiar with Columbus; we all had existing relationships with businesses in and around the area,” Anderson said. “But we hadn’t gone out as a large group to visit Columbus. We cooperate to provide solutions to the private sector, always focused on impact. Ideally impact drives economic development and prosperity in Columbus and other communities all across Nebraska.”

To start the session, each Network official (representing various campuses) gave a presentation that highlighted what their department offers and how residents could utilize the university to help economic growth. Then, there was time for attendees to have one-on-one meetings with the representatives.

Columbus resident Dennis Hirschbrunner, who serves on the Dean’s Advisory Board for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Engineering and is co-owner of the Ramada, helped facilitate the meeting. He said Columbus has had a great relationship with university leaders throughout the years, so the session was just a continuation of that.

“I think the university is really trying to become more of an economic driver for the state by being available to provide not only academic assistance, but also business acumen and just being there to help businesses solve problems and enhance those businesses,” he said. “Their role is changing from just purely educating students to being more participatory within the overall business and manufacturing community by assisting these businesses and industries with what they need.”

Nebraska Innovation Network officials want to continue working with Columbus and other area businesses, Anderson noted, adding people can call him at 402-416-6108 or send an email to randerson13@unl.edu if they have questions. This session is the first of many, he stressed.

“We thought it made sense to bring some programs that people might not be familiar with or are maybe underutilized, that it might be a way to make some fast connections and for people to get a broad brush of resources that are available at the university,” Anderson said. “We’re working to build stronger bridges and connective tissue between the cities and towns that are not in the same place where the university campuses are so we can quickly make referrals, wherever there is a need or opportunity. These resources are available statewide.”

Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at matt.lindberg@lee.net.

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