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Small Business

Our Midwestern humility tells us we shouldn’t declare ourselves one of the best places in the country to launch a small business. Fortunately, outfits like CNNmoney.com and Forbes Small Business have done it for us. CNNmoney.com ranked Greater Omaha third best among midsize metro areas for small business start-ups (2009). The site praised our low utility rates, affordable cost of living, skilled workforce and business-friendly tax incentives (courtesy of the Nebraska Advantage Act).

While we certainly revere our Berkshire Hathaways, our Kiewits and seven other Fortune 1000 companies headquartered here, Omaha simply wouldn’t be Omaha without small businesses like Buland Group, Olympia Cycle, The Interior Design Firm and Julio’s Restaurant, to name just a few. A full nine out of 10 businesses in Omaha have fewer than 50 employees.

“Omaha is a great incubator for new ideas and new businesses with common sense and hard work as building blocks. We have great mentors, a long list of entrepreneurs and organizations whose dreams and businesses started here small and grew to national and global prominence,“ said Jeff Neary, president, Regal Awards, Inc.

…Marketing and advertising agencies, staffing firms, entertainment development companies, event planners… Omaha’s diversity of small businesses and the jobs they create bring stability to and fuel growth in our local economy. The Greater Omaha Chamber thanks the tens of thousands of small businesses that contribute to the vitality of our city. And, additions to the economic landscape are always welcome.

eCommerce with a Cherry on Top

Omaha-based eCreamery and its customers specialize in interesting combinations: chocolate mousse ice cream with fudge swirls and brownie bites, tiramisu gelato with chocolate covered cherries and snowflake sprinkles…

“The one that we talk about a lot is avocado habanero ice cream with cheddar cheese pieces and bacon,“ said eCreamery’s Abby Jordan.

But, eCreamery’s most interesting combination may be its very own business model. eCreamery is a brick-and-mortar ice cream parlor in Omaha’s Dundee neighborhood, but it also a unique, nationally-recognized e-tailer. The bulk of its business (80 percent) flows from its web site, www.ecreamery.com. Online orders are custom-made, packed in dry ice and shipped across the country.

“We’ve shipped everywhere from the White House to Hollywood Boulevard,“ said eCreamery’s Becky App.

The operation is busiest around Christmas, but Father’s Day is a close second.

“So many of our gifts are gifts to fathers and grandfathers, and they’re based on a memory of having ice cream as a special occasion growing up,“ said App.

Since opening in Omaha in 2006, eCreamery has scooped up endorsements from the likes of Vanessa Williams and Rachael Ray. Last February, eCreamery created a series of flavors exclusively for Emeril Lagasse and Perrier-Jouet’s event at the 2010 South Beach Wine & Food Festival in Florida.

“We’re having a lot of fun,“ said App. “It’s like building something we think is going to be successful.“

Omaha is My Home

The multi-faceted Roger Fransecky, Ph.D. may not be a native of Omaha, but he is, without a doubt, a fervent ambassador.

“There is a spirit of centeredness and clarity here, and that is a huge advantage for business,“ said Fransecky. “This is a city where you can make connections and get things done. Most of the cities I’ve lived in—whether it’s New York or L.A.—aren’t manageable, the scale is too much. We can get it done here and we do.“

Fransecky, a native New Yorker, is the CEO of Apogee Group, a global management consulting and leadership development firm. A self-described “serial entrepreneur,“ he founded the company in Colorado in 1995 and later moved the operation to New York. A project involving the former CEO of First Data prompted a visit to Omaha and Fransecky’s first real taste of the city. “I’m driving up and down Dodge Street, and I called home and said, ’I don’t know what’s going on here, but there is a lot going on here. We need to take a look.’“

Fransecky and his wife, Nancy Foreman-Fransecky, a Nebraska native, transitioned from the east coast gradually, renting an apartment in Omaha for a month in the summer and a month in the winter. After “really getting a sense of the city,“ they made the permanent move. That was almost eight years ago.

“The magic of it is there was not a day in our lives that one of us didn’t say this was the best time we’d ever had,“ said Fransecky.

Those memories now serve as a source of comfort. Fransecky’s wife died unexpectedly in August 2008. “The irony is the Nebraskan brought the New Yorker here, and the New Yorker has chosen to stay. Omaha is my home,“ said Fransecky.

Fransecky said he is continually spellbound by the city’s spirit. “People here are authentic, they have a true north. They know who they are; they live without pretense, but they are extraordinarily successful,“ said Fransecky. “You can live a remarkable life here—and I do.“

In addition to his work with Apogee Group, Fransecky is chairman of the entrepreneur-nurturing Halo Institute and a clinical professor of leadership at Creighton University. The 69-year-old began his career as a university professor and later added to his resumé clinical and organizational psychologist, award-winning television producer and senior vice president of both Home Box Office/Time Inc. and Westinghouse Broadcasting and Cable.

Lights... Camera... Innovation...

With every first-rate project his company premieres, Dana Altman is letting it be known—a high-end entertainment development company can thrive in Omaha, Neb.

“Anything that’s new and inventive—we want to be there. We are always exploring.“

Altman, grandson of the late, legendary filmmaker Robert Altman, founded North Sea Films, Inc. in 1994. It has since produced a full and growing portfolio of work: six feature films, three network television specials, seven documentaries, and numerous commercials, corporate videos and image campaigns. North Sea’s latest film, Lovely, Still, debuted in theaters in the U.S., Canada and Japan in the fall of 2010.

“The performances that we have in the film from Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn are extraordinary,“ he said, worthy, perhaps, of Golden Globe or Oscar consideration. “The Hollywood Foreign Press and the people who make those decisions will have an opportunity to respond to it.“

In the meantime, North Sea has begun production on what it hopes will be the next Lovely, Still, a feature film, penned by an Omaha screenwriter, titled Pauline.

“We don’t look specifically for material from Nebraska; we just recognize that there are talented people in every community,“ said Altman. “We are lucky to find them in our own backyard.“

North Sea Films is also in the process of producing two more documentaries: one a rock ’n’ roll story about the rise, fall and rise of Miljenko Matijevic, founder and front man of the band Steelheart; the other about a plant that holds tremendous promise as a bio-fuel breakthrough.

Even though North Sea Films and its body of work are growing steadily, Altman admits it was a bold move to leave the west coast and start an entertainment development company in Omaha. But, the father of six said he has no regrets.

“I have my kids here. This is the place to raise a family. Maybe it’s been a little more difficult to be in my line of work in Omaha, but it’s been worth fighting for knowing that I have a family that’s solid and super cool.“

North Sea Films Filmography:
Omaha (The Movie)
Kolobos
The Private Public
Out of Omaha
Carpula
Lovely, Still

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