Growing our state is key to creating opportunities for the next generation. That’s why I’ve made the vision for my administration to “grow Nebraska.” Throughout 2017, Nebraska experienced great successes and signs of growth.
This year, Nebraska won the Governor’s Cup for the most economic development projects per capita. Forbes magazine ranks Nebraska as the fourth-best state for business in the nation. Nebraska added over 12,000 new people for a record high population of over 1.92 million. And Nebraska improved seven spots in Chief Executive Magazine’s 2017 Best & Worst States for Business.
Nebraska’s national standing is helping attract new business, job opportunities and investments. In 2017 alone, Facebook broke ground on their ninth data center in the world with a $300 million investment in Papillion. Cargill unveiled a new cooked meats plant in Columbus with a $111 million investment. In Blair, Novozymes announced a $36 million expansion project. Kawasaki cut the ribbon on their first North American aerospace division, a $12.5 million investment in Lincoln. In October, Agri-Plastics announced a $4.5 million investment in Sidney. And Costco selected Nebraska for their first chicken processing project, a $300 million investment. These are just a few of the investments which are creating opportunity across our state.
This year, I led my second trade mission to Japan and the first-ever governor-led trade mission from Nebraska to Canada. Trade missions helped bring investments from Agri-Plastics, Novozymes and Kawasaki. They have also given us an opportunity to support national efforts to open up new markets. This year, China reopened their market to American beef. Argentina opened to American pork. Vietnam lifted a ban on dry distillers grains. And Japan is set to allow American ethanol producers to export starting early next year. Just a couple weeks ago, we learned that Nebraska is exporting more beef to China than any other state.
These successes would not be possible without the great teams working together at the Department of Agriculture and Department of Economic Development. Both teams have been doing great work in the areas of business recruitment and international trade to help grow our state.
Working with the Legislature has also been key for our growth. Over the past few years, the Legislature and I have worked together to cut the rate of growth in spending from 6.5 percent to 0.6 percent, a 90 percent reduction. This year, Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson and I worked together to merge two state agencies to create the Department of Transportation, so we can spend less on overhead and put more money back into roads and runways. Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell brought a bill to my desk to end the practice of letting people quit their job and receive unemployment checks. Sen. John Murante of Gretna and I worked to create a one-stop shop for Nebraska’s veterans by merging state agencies serving them. Numerous senators stepped up to help reform onerous professional license requirements to help create more opportunity for Nebraskans.
My team is continuing to work on additional initiatives to spur private-sector growth.
This year, I ordered a freeze on state regulations and a review of all red tape by my agencies. An analysis this summer found that Nebraska’s Administrative Code consists of 7.5 million words with more than 100,000 restrictive words. We’ll be coming back with plans to roll back regulations based on the review. Building a regulatory climate with the customer in mind is helping grow our state by bringing new investments here.
In addition to cutting red tape, we’ve been working to run state government like a business. To achieve this, we have trained over 12,500 of our teammates in process improvement skills. Skills that will help them identify waste and build better government that puts the customer first. With this philosophy, we are delivering professional licenses more quickly, turning around environmental permits within a single day, and reducing backlogs for tax credit applications.
Running government like a business also means we’ve been changing how we run traditional entitlement programs, so we help Nebraskans get back to work more quickly and find greater financial independence. Two years ago, we changed our state’s unemployment program into a reemployment program. Under the reemployment model, job seekers are required to go through coaching sessions, post a searchable resume in the state’s jobs database, and search for work more often. This has been so successful, we’re now offering the same services to families receiving food stamps. After piloting the program in Grand Island, families we helped saw an average of a $6,900 increase to their annual income, and many are reducing or eliminating their need for state food assistance.
These are just a few of the great stories we’ve seen in 2017. We’ve got great momentum, and my administration will keep working every day to grow the state.