The Nest apartments in La Vista, privately funded and built by biotech company Streck, are intended to be a tool to help recruit and retain workers. (Cindy Gonzalez/Nebraska Examiner)
LA VISTA — For six years, Ashley Plack had a house. She also worked two jobs to pay the bills and, with the maintenance demands of a homeowner, had little time to herself.
Recently she sold the house, moved into a studio apartment in a residential complex built by her employer, Streck, and figures she has shaved expenses by up to $500 a month.
While the newly opened apartments, in Plack’s case, did not serve necessarily as a recruitment tool — she’s been working for two years at the biotech company — it may very well be among the reasons she stays.
“I actually have my weekends and evenings to do stuff,” Plack said Wednesday during an open house event at Streck’s newly built apartments, The Nest.
Plack is among the first wave of 15 Streck employees to move into the 84-unit “affordable housing” complex that Streck leaders built as a way to have an edge in talent recruitment and retention.
Streck leaders call the $15 million Nest project affordable — not because it was built with public funding or linked to a government subsidy (it was not) — but because they have pledged to discount rents for employees.
Officials say that such innovative ways to provide housing at affordable rates will have to become more of the norm if Nebraska is to tackle a problem that many say is hampering economic growth in communities across the state.
“It’s more expensive to attract employees these days, and companies are making bigger investments,” said Bryan Slone, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “Particularly with larger companies, you’ll probably see more of this.”
‘Their issues are right now’
Slone said he’s seen other examples of employers creating housing options for their workers, including back when Cabela’s was involved with construction in Sydney.
Housing is only part of the solution to attracting and keeping workers, said Slone, adding that towns count challenges in obtaining child care and transportation as key reasons jobs go unfilled.
He sees a growing need for government, business and philanthropy to team up, and step it up.
But because businesses have immediate needs — “their issues are right now” — Slone said he expects to see more employer-initiated efforts.
Streck CEO Connie Ryan started to focus on the Nest housing development in 2021.
She said she knew that expansion of the company, which develops, manufactures and packages lab products, would require more employees. Not only was hiring getting more competitive, the company’s operations are based in Sarpy County, which has some of the priciest housing in the state.
Streck owned vacant land next to its multimillion-dollar manufacturing and information technology addition in La Vista. After hearing about and discussing ideas with friends at Omaha’s Habitat for Humanity and developer Burlington Capital, the Nest notion was born. (The Nest name is a nod to the wise owl mascot on Streck facilities.)
Supporters and guests were invited to tour the complex Wednesday at 11623 Emiline St. Ryan said she was more than pleased with results so far.
She said she never considered seeking a public financial subsidy to help develop the project because she didn’t want to cede any control.
“I didn’t want there to be rules and regulations on what I could do,” said Ryan.
She wanted higher-end finishes, for example. And rent discounts are based on employee financial needs.
While the apartments were opened first to current employees, Ryan said housing will be advertised with new job postings (there are about 20 openings now). Eventually, apartments will open to the public at market rates, though Ryan expects some units to be reserved for out-of-town recruits who might need housing.
With over 278,000 square feet of production facilities in La Vista, Streck products are manufactured and delivered to some 13,000 labs in 65 countries. The company holds more than 40 patents on more than 20 products.
‘I can walk to work’
Since the Nest project launched, Streck was acquired by Chicago-based Madison Industries. Ryan said the partnership allows for additional growth opportunities, and she envisions an ongoing demand for housing.
For Plack and a few co-workers who attended the open house, the apartments have made life easier.
Heidi Monce and her 11-year-old daughter moved into a two-bedroom apartment in February, paying about $1,100 a month for rent.
“It’s definitely more convenient,” she said. “I can walk to work.”
Dave Zbylut has worked 19 years at Streck and wound up with newer and bigger Nest digs for the same rent he paid elsewhere.
Plack, who works in customer service, said she pays about $570 for her studio. A pool is under construction just outside the clubhouse.
“I’m going back to school now and saving money,” she said.
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