State funds could help build $80 million national defense ‘innovation hub’

The proposed private-public facility in Bellevue would draw hundreds of six-figure jobs

By: - February 10, 2022 7:00 pm
Nebraska State Capitol Building

The Nebraska State Capitol Building in Lincoln. (Rebecca S. Gratz for the Nebraska Examiner)

The State of Nebraska might pitch in $20 million toward a proposed $80 million innovation and research hub that would strengthen national defense and house hundreds of local professionals earning six-figure salaries.

Introduced by State Sen. Mike McDonnell, Legislative Bill 1232 was described as an opportunity to help create a rare public-private facility, in Bellevue, that would prop up the  local and state economies, as well as the U.S. Strategic Command’s NC3 operations.

NC3 refers to nuclear command, control and communications — and the new facility likely would be called the NC3 Enterprise Center, McDonnell said.

Several supporters of the proposed facility, whose specific location was not disclosed, spoke in favor of the state financial boost during a public hearing Thursday before the Appropriations Committee.

Among them was Ted Carter, retired vice admiral and president of the University of Nebraska system. 

This is our opportunity to create an innovation hub that will attract major defense contractors and small emerging businesses in the NC3 mission space to Nebraska

– Ted Carter, president of University of Nebraska system

“This is our opportunity to create an innovation hub that will attract major defense contractors and small and emerging businesses in the NC3 mission space to Nebraska,” Carter said.

An economic impact study on the venture is expected to be completed this month, Carter said, adding that defense spending typically generates “immense economic benefits’” for host communities.

He cited a Nebraska Commission on Military and Veteran Affairs report that said Bellevue’s Offutt Air Force Base in 2020 provided an economic impact of more than $2 billion.

“The opportunity for our students and faculty to engage in national defense-related research, training and development will pay dividends to our state and economy for years to come,” Carter said.

Bellevue to step up with $4 million

State funds that would contribute to the facility would come from a pot of money that lawmakers set aside last year for a different military project. That U.S. Space Command headquarters project ultimately went to a different bidder. Before state funds could be tapped, the facility would have to secure matching private funds.

The City of Bellevue is prepared to commit $4 million for the land and infrastructure, Bellevue Mayor Rusty Hike told the committee.

Hike said he anticipates the facility would draw 300 to 500 employees — graduates of Nebraska universities as well as people from other states — who would earn annual salaries in the range of $175,000.

“It’s a great engine for Nebraska to invest in, with a lot of return,” Hike said.

Jennifer Creager, speaking on behalf of the Greater Omaha and Nebraska Chambers of Commerce, said the project would spur further investment from private defense contractors.

Carter said he had a list of contractors who expressed interest in leasing space in such a new facility.

State Sen. Mike McDonnell. (Courtesy of the Unicameral Information Office)

McDonnell said the project would build on what already has started in Nebraska. He noted that in 2018, the U.S. secretary of defense appointed StratCom as the single operational commander for the nation’s NC3 operation.

The mission, he said, is to develop a better plan for future satellites, radios, aircraft and other systems that connect nuclear platforms and weapons to military and national leaders. Additionally, he said, the military is exploring how to keep hackers and jammers out as the nuclear enterprise connects to the Internet.

Entrepreneurs, workers, economic development

StratCom leaders enlisted the NU system and the private sector to help develop a private, off-base facility that would bring together entrepreneurs, academics and others to elevate the NC3 capabilities, McDonnell said.

“This project is unique because it not only provides economic development potential for both entrepreneurs and workers, but for our entire state in expressing our commitment to U.S. StratCom and retaining the NC3 mission.”

Also Thursday, Bellevue Sen. Rita Sanders asked the committee to support Legislative Bill 1233. The measure would shift the remaining $30 million of the $50 million that the Legislature had set aside previously for the Space Command headquarters project that went elsewhere.

State Sen. Rita Sanders of Bellevue. (Craig Chandler/University Communication)

She asked that the funds be directed toward a list of amenities that would improve life for Bellevue military families and ultimately encourage them to remain in the area.

Among the proposed projects were improvements to an outdoor pavilion, sports courts, youth recreational areas, upgrades to Offutt’s Base Lake grounds and Willow Lakes Golf Course.

No one testified in opposition to either the McDonnell or Sanders bills.

Sanders said investment in Bellevue’s military base will attract future federal projects and missions as well as retain families.


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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics.