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Economic Development

Early in 2009, Madison, Tenn.-based Vireo Systems opened a facility in Plattsmouth, Neb., where it produces health products, an alternative pain reliever among them. It’s a small operation, starting with just five workers, but an important business addition for Plattsmouth in Cass County.

This is an example of involvement with the Greater Omaha Economic Development Partnership, a partnership that includes the Greater Omaha Chamber, Sarpy County Economic Development Corporation (SCEDC), Gateway Development Corporation (Washington County) and Cass County Nebraska Economic Development Council, as well as the city of Omaha and public-private organizations throughout the region. These four organizations work together and are co-located at the Greater Omaha Chamber. This seamless integration of resources promotes significant economic progress in the Greater Omaha area.

Early in 2010, and 35 miles to the north in Blair, Neb., Cargill Inc. opened a new office building where it houses a four-state purchasing operation, not far from the Blair biorefinery campus it started in 1994. The new office building was a significant win for the Partnership. Cargill’s industrial complex is the biggest in the state and the single largest investment, approximately $1.4 billion.

Between Plattsmouth and Blair is Omaha, whose growth is pushing it toward the western limits of Douglas County and Sarpy County, the fastest-growing county in Nebraska.

Economic development directors in the four counties coordinate their efforts in detail, sharing leads on startup and expansion projects via a specialized software tracking system. In order to stay connected to each other, the Partnership’s project management team, which includes the four directors, meets on a weekly basis while the entire 18-member economic development team meets twice a month to share and review project information.

The Partnership directors each have an office at the Chamber. “We are all in close proximity of each other, which makes sharing information extremely easy,“ said Toby Churchill, executive director of the Sarpy County Economic Development Corporation.

It is a seamless operation, “a one-stop shop for all your economic development needs,“ said Paula Hazlewood, executive director of Washington County’s Gateway Development Corporation. “We don’t see county lines when working with a prospect.“

The “shop“ provides access to incentive programs, site and building information, employee recruiting and training, international business resources and an array of economic, demographic, tax, labor-force, cost-of-living and other data.

Churchill said the benefits of the joint effort are obvious. “If my office was located in a Sarpy County location, there is no way I would get the same number of leads.“ Alone, he said, the suburban counties couldn’t afford the development efforts that partnering with Omaha brings.

Nor can Omaha alone offer as many sites of varying kinds and costs, especially large-acreage ones, as the four counties working together can.

Cass County joined the partnership in 2008 “to be at the table“ when national companies come looking at Greater Omaha, said John Yochum, executive director of Cass County Nebraska Economic Development Council.

Gateway Development Corporation, which started in 1989, joined the Partnership in 2002. Sarpy County Economic Development Corporation linked up with the Greater Omaha Chamber in the late 1980s when the two courted BMW, which was looking for a location for a U.S. manufacturing plant. The joint effort grew into today’s formal Partnership.

GO! funds the work of the Greater Omaha Economic Partnership. It is in the second year of its second five-year campaign; its goal is $20 million.

Business growth stories in Cass County are exemplified by the long-time Oxbow Animal Health, Inc. A 30-year-old company that started with two employees, Oxbow Animal Health makes feed and nutrition products for small animals and ships them worldwide from Murdock, Neb., population 279. The company had a 60-person payroll last year and is hiring more people, said John Yochum of the Cass County Economic Development Council.

A newer, human-health business in the county is Vireo Resources, whose parent, Vireo Systems of Madison, Tenn., is part of the $30 billion analgesics industry. The facility opened in Plattsmouth’s Fourmile Industrial Park last year. Vireo turns out a pain reliever called Stay Active, developed in partnership with University of Nebraska Medical Center researchers and licensed by the university to Vireo. Vireo and UNMC have been working together for seven years.

Omaha, at a population of 454,700 and the nation’s 40th largest city, is pushing its boundaries west toward the edge of Douglas County. But the city’s biggest developments at the moment are closer to its beginnings near the Missouri River. More than $2 billion in downtown projects include a new home for the NCAA Men’s College World Series. TD AMERITRADE Park Omaha is being built under a contract with the NCAA that will keep the series in Omaha at least another 25 years. The stadium is near Qwest Center Omaha, which holds Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting every year and will hold the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Swimming for the second time in 2012. A second Riverfront Place condo tower is being built on the west bank of the Missouri, near Gallup’s riverfront campus, on land cleared of junkyards and railroad yards. Downtown is home to two Fortune 500 companies, ConAgra and Union Pacific.

Less than two miles to the west, a $325 million mixed-use development is rising on the slope of a hill topped by the multiple-building Mutual of Omaha insurance and banking complex, just a few blocks from the building that houses the headquarters of two other Fortune 500 firms, Berkshire Hathaway and Peter Kiewit Sons’, Inc. Much of the condo-apartments-commercial-entertainment district called Midtown Crossing at Turner Park opened in 2010; a Westin hotel is under construction.

Going up adjacent to the new campus that holds technology and business college elements of the University of Nebraska at Omaha is Aksarben Village, a $300 million mixed-use complex that includes, among others, a new headquarters for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska and the building that houses Fidelity National Title Group, Inc., an insurance company that has moved operations to Nebraska.

Pentagon Federal Credit Union last year opened a 100-employee customer service center in Sarpy County, which is home to Offutt Air Force Base and the U.S. Strategic Command. PennFed expects its Sarpy workforce to triple in 10 years.

Cabela’s, the national outdoors outfitting retailer, which has a store in La Vista, built a $10 million data center in Sarpy County that will start operations in 2010 with 15 employees. The company also announced it is building a Technology Development Center of up to 50,000 square-feet to accommodate about 100 workspaces. Cabela’s, a Fortune 1000 company, is based in Sidney, a western Nebraska city.

CoSentry, a data center and managed services company, opened its $26 million Midlands Data Center in January. This Tier IV hardened facility is designed to withstand 250 mph winds and deliver six nines reliability on power, cooling and connectivity. A six nines facility means that the data center is designed to encounter less than 6 seconds of downtime per year.

Sarpy County continues to be the fastest growing county in Nebraska with population topping 153,500 in 2009. This high-growth was one of the reasons the county was selected as the site of the new $25 million baseball stadium for the Omaha Royals. The stadium is on schedule to host spring 2011 baseball.

Novozymes, a Danish biotech company, is building a $200 million enzymes-producing plant on the Cargill biorefinery campus in Blair, Neb. The first phase of the Novozymes’ plant is producing enzymes for the biofuels industry, including an ethanol plant already operating on the Cargill campus. Completion of the Novozymes plant is scheduled for 2012.

Cargill-owned NatureWorks LLC operates a plant producing corn-based polymers, an alternative to oil-based plastic, used for such things as biodegradable deli containers and corn-based fibers for clothing and textiles. Evonik Industries produces animal feed additives at another plant on the biorefinery campus.

Blair held on to 90 Cargill employees when the company chose to build a 30,000-square-foot office building there rather than move a four-state purchasing operation elsewhere. The building, which opened early in 2010, is in Hayden Place, a 65-acre mixed-use development that overlooks the Blair biorefinery campus.

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