‘Tis the season for year-end surveys and looking ahead to the issues of 2018. The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry recently shared some numbers they’ve compiled. This fall they surveyed businesses across the state and we found the results very much in-line with our conditions in Columbus.

The top concern of Nebraska businesses in the survey was workforce Thirty-six percent of those surveyed put that at the top of the list, followed by taxes and regulations. Clearly workforce issues are no surprise to any of us who’ve been tackling workforce issues in Columbus for more than a decade ... we knew these days were coming as the baby boomers head to retirement.

From our chamber’s perspective, I’d say our reaction to that survey result is this: If it’s a statewide challenge then we need to be seeking state-level solutions. Columbus has only so many resources to put to work retaining and recruiting and while the local team is doing good work, that impact could be multiplied if there were more regional and statewide efforts being added to what we’re doing here. We continue advocating that Nebraska should get serious about growing the talent pool.

The survey also showed 79 percent of businesses see future growth potential. While that is an awesome number, the frustrating part is that we know that potential won’t be realized without improving workforce availability.

So, what can be done? The businesses were asked what would best address those workforce issues in their town. The most popular answer was “more housing options” and a close second was more technical education options for K-12 students. Again, no surprise ... we see the housing shortage here every day.

But the good news is that we’re seeing results in both those key areas in the Columbus region. Obviously we’ve put a huge amount of effort into housing recently and I firmly believe you’ll see that translate into results in the spring with shovels digging dirt and housing being built. And the efforts of all three local high schools in the STEM education arena are second to none. The STEM Academy at CHS is an obvious enhancement, but the work Scotus is doing in establishing the STEAM approach and Lakeview’s STEM tie-in to locally grown foods are impressive, as well.

I would share one other interesting result from the business survey. In making a hire today, Nebraska businesses reported it’s almost a three-way tie in terms of seeking someone with a four-year degree, two-year degree or skill certification. I think that’s really positive, in that Nebraska is providing opportunity for people in a variety of education/career pathways.

As long as we’re sharing data from the state chamber, I’ll also mention that Barry Kennedy, chamber president, shared some recent competitiveness rankings that are tracked by the state chamber. He noted that CNBC named Nebraska the fifth-best state for education, sixth-best for business friendliness and 10th-best for quality of life and Forbes named Nebraska the best state for regulatory climate.

However, he also said that our state doesn’t rank so well in workforce (see above), growth prospects and economic performance. And as you might expect, Nebraska ranks worse yet in state and local tax burden compared to other states.

All in all, no big surprises in any of that data from the state chamber. But that’s good, because it provides validation that the local work being done is quite likely tackling the right issues and pursuing the right opportunities.

K.C. Belitz is president of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce.

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