Omaha World Herald. Nov 2, 2019
Nebraska Passport program is a proven success in boosting statewide tourism
The tourism economy brings major benefits to Nebraska communities — some $3.4 billion in economic impact in 2018. All those visits to festivals, rodeos, museums, restaurants and hotels sustained more than 40,000 jobs with total earnings of $750 million. For 10 years, the Nebraska Passport program has stimulated such visits across the state, and the 2019 numbers are encouraging.
At each stop, visitors collect a free Passport stamp and vie for prizes. This year, visitors took in some 154,755 stamps at 70 tourism sites across the state. Participants came from 448 Nebraska communities and 37 states. The number of Nebraska Passport accounts via its software app was up 22.5% from 2018.
It's especially positive that the economic benefits from Nebraska tourism extend across the state to communities large and small. The Nebraska Tourism Commission enhances the appeal by packaging the Passport program in itineraries focusing on particular interests, such as outdoor recreation, food, shopping and Nebraska history.
Each year, Passport sites cover an impressively broad gamut. Examples this year included the Museum of the Fur Trade in Chadron, the Mixing Bowl Café in Gering, Kinkaider Brewing Co. in Broken Bow, Sehnert's Bakery & Bieroc Café in McCook, Stagecoach Gifts in Kearney, Neligh Mill State Historic Site in Neligh, It's All about Bees in Ralston and Kregel Windmill Factory Museum in Nebraska City.
"I love exploring the state I grew up in, the state I continue to call home," Shannon Cook of Wood River, Nebraska, wrote at nebraskapassport.com. "The stops on each passport are truly treasures and as years pass have become stops I remember and continue to visit. The best part about these adventures, that brings me the most joy, is getting to watch my kids learn through this experience. Thank you Passport Nebraska for a fun 2019 summer!"
Michele Anderson of Columbus, Nebraska, wrote, "It has been great meeting so many fantastic people while enjoying Nebraska and making so many memories this summer! One stop to go!"
Each year, hundreds of participants visit all 70 Passport sites, and 909 people made that achievement this year, up from 769 in 2018 and 469 in 2017. Those high scorers hailed not only from Nebraska but also from Iowa, Missouri, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Indiana, Oregon, Washington and Florida.
The benefits from tourism certainly extend to Omaha. Last year, more than 13 million visitors spent $1.3 billion in the Omaha area. That's up 4.3% from 2017 and generates more than 17,000 jobs. The Passport program will resume next spring, and Nebraska destinations are welcome to apply to join the itinerary for 2020. Applications can be made at http://nebraskapassport.com/passport-details/application/. The deadline is Dec. 31.
The Nebraska Passport program is a win all around, for visitors, businesses and communities.
Kearney Hub. Nov. 1, 2019
Child care foundation for strong economy
The same conversation is echoing across the Cornhusker State. With Nebraska's unemployment rate consistently tracking at 3 percent and lower, there are precious few people to fill the thousands of jobs available in our state. Regardless of where you look — manufacturers, trades, health care, hospitality, agriculture — there are critical vacancies and an absence of people to fill them — along with the positions that would be created if more companies could expand like they wish.
Nebraska's lack of an adequate workforce is holding back our state.
There is an assortment of responses. Factories and construction firms are working with local high schools and technical colleges to train young people for jobs in manufacturing and construction. Health care is hunting outside Nebraska for skilled professionals from other states and countries. Likewise, some hospitality and agricultural operations are looking to import foreign laborers with temporary work visas.
These are examples of ambitious creativity, but the focus seems to slant more toward what companies need as opposed to what their would-be employees need. Potential employees know what they want. They're looking for communities that provide health care, education, affordable housing, recreation and child care
Did they say child care? That's right. Finding good, nurturing care for their children is one of the largest challenges facing young couples, many of whom would be two-paycheck families if they had the choice. Communities that can provide child care and early childhood education help young couples solve a huge challenge. If the kids can be cared for, the community gains two people for the workforce, not just one because a parent must stay home with the children.
When young parents know the community they're considering as their next home can help care for and educate their children, it's a big plus.
Interest in early child care and education is rapidly spreading. This blooming interest is represented in the Plambeck Early Childhood Education Center that's opening soon at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, and in participation at events such as the Thriving Children, Families and Communities Conference held in September in Kearney.
In 2018, the conference's first year, nearly 300 civic, business and education leaders from 74 Nebraska communities attended. The head count grew to 400 people from 92 communities at the 2019 conference. Participants discussed how high-quality early education and child care can become powerful economic development tools in Nebraska.
Imagine attracting young families to our communities and then keeping them here. That's what Nebraska always has been about — a great place to raise a family. Today, if we can provide care and education, young parents will be raising their families here — and helping to grow our state.
The North Platte Telegraph. Nov. 3, 2019
How to tackle 'Flatrock Fix-Its'
What's the solution to the lengthy North Platte fix-it list this newspaper laid out last week?
You won't find it here.
"Solution," you see, is a singular word.
You have free articles remaining.
Our "Flatrock Fix-Its" series presented many reasons (the plural, not the singular) why so many streets and parks and recreation equipment and facilities need attention. (To read them and see the problems, visit nptelegraph.com.)
Some reasons are bigger than others. The passage of time is the biggest one.
But there's rarely only one reason behind any problem our community faces.
So one can't expect any single answer — like that nasty three-letter word ending in "x'' — to solve them.
The word "tax" inevitably was linked to North Platte's infrastructure needs when the city put its fix-it list before voters a year ago.
This newspaper endorsed enlisting help from our visitors by raising our local sales tax by half a cent to create a legally dedicated pot of money to slice into the fix-it list.
If tourists or truckers use the things we need to fix — and if we're actually as averse to property taxes as we say we are — it'll be cheaper for us to fix them if visitors chip in when they eat, sleep and buy things here.
Is an infrastructure tax "the" idea? "The" solution?
Of course not. It would be just one piece of the puzzle.
We're happy to say our residents have put other pieces in place, especially regarding parks and recreation.
“ The late John Newburn's 30-year-old bequest for parks improvements keeps on giving, because we decided to use only its interest income.
“ Community groups that have taken on parks projects. The Buffalo Bill Kiwanis club just installed its second playground in city parks. Its members have committed to help maintain what they've given.
“ Local sports clubs and committees also have pitched in to help improve the ballparks or recreation facilities that they use.
“ Some North Platte businesses have donated funds that have helped replace or upgrade aging facilities and equipment.
“ And the North Platte Parks, Recreation and Wellness Foundation has a special fund at the Mid-Nebraska Community Foundation for private donations to help keep up our parks.
That fund received a $5,000 estate gift last December to help with needs at Cody Park. Contact the community foundation at 308-534-3315 if you'd like to give.
None of the above can fix everything. But they're all pieces of the puzzle.
They show that North Platte already is applying the concept of "public-private partnership" in caring for our community.
Our community needs to keep that concept in the forefront as we decide together how to tackle the big-ticket fix-its.
Before the half-cent infrastructure tax goes on the ballot again, it's wise to generally agree which types of fix-its to use it for.
It's been said last year's proposal should have been 100% dedicated to streets, rather than tapping some of it for parks and recreation and (so the theory goes) opening the door to steer it toward a certain golf course.
Just make sure the half-cent tax, if approved, can be used to fix and replace streets, water and sewer lines and any other types of infrastructure that can't be done without when they fail.
That would still help, indirectly, with our parks and recreation needs. Several could be dealt with for the cost of one street project. Less spent on big street projects in the regular city budget frees up funds for cheaper fixes.
And if we want property taxes kept down, we haven't helped ourselves in the past by waiting until the city has had to issue bonds — which fall outside state tax lids — to replace aging concrete and asphalt only when it falls apart.
No, a half-cent infrastructure tax can't fix everything. The last proposal was estimated to generate $2.5 million a year over 10 years had it passed.
It's not "the" solution. We said you wouldn't find that here. But it can be part of the puzzle.
We know what the needs are. Let's figure out the best solutions — plural — to fix up our common home.