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Infrastructure

When it comes to using electric power to win a new business for the Omaha area, it’s cost that counts. And capacity. And reliability.

Omaha scores high on those three measures of electric power, arguably the most important part of infrastructure that business prospects look at in searching for a place to settle down.

Low power costs were among the reasons Yahoo! decided to build a data center in Greater Omaha. Data centers are hot items in business recruiting, though other new and expanding businesses also have found Omaha’s electricity an attractive lure.

Power rates for industrial customers are nearly 40 percent lower in Omaha than the national average, and 33 percent lower for commercial customers, according to Greater Omaha Chamber research. “That gives us a huge advantage if we’re talking to a business where a lot of energy is a key concern,“ said Rod Moseman, the Chamber’s vice president of economic development.

The reason Omaha rates are so low is in the electric utility’s name: Omaha Public Power District. As a customer-owned power company, OPPD is under no pressure to constantly increase profits in a fight for shareholders’ investment dollars. Because it is tax-exempt, it can borrow for capital investment at lower rates than investor-owned utilities.

Adequate capacity is also used in recruiting businesses and the recent addition of a 300-megawatt generating plant to the OPPD system, coming on top of the re-licensing until 2033 of its nuclear plant, is a strong argument. In addition, the utility has committed to drawing 10 percent of its power from renewable sources, primarily wind, by 2020.

Reliability is another selling point. OPPD’s service availability index, a measure of how few power interruptions it has, is a solid 99.984 percent. Add to that the utility’s J.D. Power and Associates award for customer satisfaction. “That resonates with prospects,“ said Moseman.

OPPD has its own economic development team, which partners with the Chamber’s in pitching clients. “We work hand-in-glove with them,“ added Moseman.

The Chamber has similar partnerships with the Omaha area’s gas utilities. The supplier in the city is Metropolitan Utilities District, a customer-owned utility like OPPD. Investor-owned Black Hills Energy competes with MUD, whose residential gas rates run 20 percent lower than the national average, in Omaha’s suburbs.

Communication services companies Cox and Qwest are two of the companies providing phone, Internet and data services to customers. Omaha long has been well-supplied with communications lines connecting it to the world, thanks in part to the Cold War-born needs of Omaha-area headquarters of the Strategic Air Command and its successor, the U.S. Strategic Command. When the technology boom called for more speed and capacity, Omaha ended up as a crossroads of fiber-optic networks.

In addition to the physical infrastructure of electric power, gas, water and communications lines, business recruiters can cite the academic opportunities and support of the University of Nebraska’s Peter Kiewit Institute and the Scott Technology Transfer and Incubator Center, said Scott Strain, the Greater Omaha Chamber’s senior director of research.

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