Nebraska Chamber: Raising state’s tech profile is one key to filling worker void

Business group pushes for legislation related to scholarships, tax breaks for research expenses

By: - February 7, 2023 6:45 pm

(Courtesy of Nebraska Chamber of Commerce & Industry)

LINCOLN — With Nebraska today unable to fill as many as 80,000 jobs, the statewide business chamber wants to amplify the push to boost the Husker tech image and overall workforce numbers.

“This next generation goes where the technology jobs are,” Bryan Slone, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said Tuesday. ‘We need to be known as a technology state.”

Bryan Slone, Nebraska Chamber of Commerce & Industry’s president (Courtesy of Nebraska Chamber)

Slone and Alex Reuss, the new head of chamber policy and legislation efforts, spoke to reporters about the organization’s priorities and bills it will champion in the Nebraska Legislature.

In addition to supporting Gov. Jim Pillen’s budget and tax plan, the chamber sees an urgency to build the state’s workforce, in part with tax breaks for businesses that expand research capabilities.

Slone pointed to the 2019 Blueprint Nebraska report that showed Nebraska often ranking in the bottom 15 of states when it came to various indicators of innovation and entrepreneurial health.

Among ways to raise Nebraska’s tech reputation, Slone said, is to renew the state’s research and development tax credit, and allow deductions for business equipment, research and experimental costs.

To help accomplish that, he said, the chamber would be throwing its support behind Legislative Bills 491 and 492.

(Courtesy of Nebraska Chamber)

The worker shortage, Slone said, is not a temporary setback. He cited declining births — from a rate of about 24 births per 1,000 Nebraskans in 1960 to 14 per 1,000 in 2015. He said the trend continues.

Slone offered insight with his own baby boomer generation, which until 2019 was the nation’s largest living adult generation.

“We’re not replacing boomers with new people in Nebraska,” said Slone. “Each year we need to be recruiting thousands of people to Nebraska just to fill those exiting the job market.”

According to the national Pew Research Center, the millennial generation continues to grow as young immigrants increase in number and as boomer deaths exceed the count of older immigrants arriving in the U.S.

Slone said there would be no long-term solution to building the workforce without federal policies and laws changing to “dramatically” increase the vetting and approval of international work visas.

“No state has more to gain than Nebraska,” he said of changing policies pertaining to immigrants and refugees. “We have 50,000 to 80,000 jobs that we can’t fill today. That number, as long as the economy keeps growing, could be over 100,000 next year.”

Slone endorsed the need to boost career and technical education programs, as outlined in Legislative Bill 610.

He pushed for passage of other proposed laws that would invest in scholarships, technical training and building projects that could train and attract students, adding that the state needs to enroll college enrollment by 10%.

According to a recent survey of statewide chamber members, top barriers to business growth in Nebraska are talent and government and taxes.

Alex Reuss, Nebraska Chamber of Commerce & Industry’s executive vice president of legislation and policy (Courtesy of Nebraska Chamber)

Surfacing as the top ways that communities could expand were the creation of more housing and more child care and education opportunities.

Slone said those results were consistent throughout Nebraska communities.

“If we were to make a move that would really bring thousands of people to our state, right now we don’t have enough affordable housing and child care to address those families,” he said.

Slone envisions those issues remaining top of mind for the next decade.

“As we try to create economic opportunity, we try to attract 18- to 34-year-olds, we really need to attract new young workers and families literally in the thousands per year,” Slone said.


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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.