Nebraska center that’s boosted budding businesses for nearly half century gets new leader

Clients are many, including trendy timber company, goat-grazing contractor

By: - September 25, 2023 5:45 am

This Timberlyne barn home tucked in the trees near the Missouri River in northern Nebraska is among more than 10,000 homes and buildings the company said it has helped produce with its timber framing and wood products. (Courtesy of Timberlyne)

OMAHA — A rural Nebraska couple who started out selling barn kits have grown a national company that today is helping to build Omaha’s first modern mass timber commercial structure.

A $57 million structure at 1501 Mike Fahey St. in the Builder’s District of downtown Omaha is framed substantially in mass timber. Photo taken Aug. 15, 2023. (Courtesy of Timberlyne)

The Timberlyne Group’s custom wood products also are reflected in places ranging from an event barn at Vala’s Pumpkin Patch in Gretna to the practice facility for the San Antonio Spurs pro basketball team.

Little known, however, is the force — the Nebraska Business Development Center — that along the way mentored husband-wife team Jule Goeller and Len Dickinson, and other budding businesses across the state.

Based at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and established in 1977, the NBDC provides mostly free loan advice and business support, connecting people to financing sources and specializing in one-on-one guidance to entrepreneurs. 

$343 million economic impact

According to the center’s records, a staff of about 25 full-time consultants and a dozen graduate assistants served an average of about 2,000 clients annually in the past five years.

Last year alone, with the consultants’ advocacy, the center’s clients reportedly secured nearly $133 million in government contracts, invested nearly $42 million into their operations and created or saved about 250 jobs.

An analysis by a UNO economist said the center’s direct and indirect economic impact to the state in 2022 reached $343 million.

Cathy Lang is retiring from the Nebraska Business Development Center. (Courtesy of NBDC)

“It’s really a valuable resource and, in my opinion, largely unknown,” said Goeller, whose company products today are represented in 49 states and in more than 10,000 homes and buildings. “If you’re a young business, you don’t know what you don’t know — you don’t even know things that are possible.”

November will mark a turning point for the NBDC: A new executive director takes the helm in only the third top leadership change for the center.

Omaha native Dan Curran, who previously worked three decades for the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, is replacing Cathy Lang, who is retiring after seven years.

Lang formerly served 33 years in state government, including as director of the Economic Development and Labor Departments.

Dan Curran takes over as head of Nebraska Business Development Center in November. (Courtesy of NBDC)

She said Curran brings a wide breadth of knowledge and professional connections — valuable to an organization with five main program areas and eight offices from Chadron to Lincoln.

Recent additions include bilingual consultants to improve outreach to Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs.

Lang said the team relies on other partners in the “ecosystem” to help get clients over the “finish line.”

Homegrown businesses

K.C. Belitz, who was recently appointed by Gov. Jim Pillen as Nebraska’s economic development director, said he has watched the NBDC evolve over decades and considers it a key piece to economic development.

“These are resources needed by homegrown businesses that really aren’t as accessible or affordable without NBDC,” said Belitz.

While UNO-affiliated, the NBDC partners with other University of Nebraska campuses and state colleges.

NBDC hosts Minority Small Business Summit Pitch Competition in Omaha. (Courtesy of NBDC)

A roughly $3 million annual budget is funded mostly by state funds, the Small Business Administration and U.S. Departments of Defense and Commerce.

For every $1 from the state, Lang said, at least $2 comes from federal sources.

The center’s five program areas range from a Small Business Development Center, which advises business owners on how to grow, to the Apex Accelerator, which helps link clients to government contracting opportunities.

It’s really a valuable resource and, in my opinion, largely unknown.

– Jule Goeller, co-founder of Timberlyne, says of the Nebraska Business Development Center

Chuck Beck oversees the NBDC’S Kearney-based Apex Accelerator. His workload reflects widely diverse business interests — from a female farmer who won a federal goat-grazing contract, to a barbecue caterer who provides meals to the Nebraska National Guard, to a client who heard the military was looking for cadavers.

“You never know what you’re going to see when it comes to federal contracting,” Beck said, adding that the government needs supplies and vendors for a broad variety of services.

Leasing out goat-grazing herds to clear unwanted weeds and as fire prevention is among government contract work tapped by Nebraskans. (Courtesy of NBDC)

He said the mishmash of opportunities at times leads one to pause: “The government is buying what?!”

Goats as weed control

Amber McDaniel is the Sargent, Neb., area farmer who was paid to monitor her goats as they munched unwanted plant life on federal land. Lately, she has shifted more to producing and selling hay to wild horse facilities.

McDaniel credited Beck for showing her the ropes of federal contracting — how to set up search engines, avoid pitfalls and match her services with jobs. She said Beck still reaches out when he hears of potential opportunities.

Loren Kucera runs the Wayne-based NBDC office that deals with small business development. Among his current clients are a couple hoping to buy a minimart, a trucking company finalizing a $5.3 million building expansion deal and someone acquiring a veterinary clinic.

Owners of the Norfolk-based Weiland Inc. turned to Kucera in 2016 when trying to build a new factory for the growing door and window manufacturing operation.

Leon Weiland had launched the business out of a shed in 1984  when his farm was struggling and in debt.

Weiland Inc., a door and window manufacturing company in the Norfolk area, has grown into this 60,000 square foot plant with technical help from the Nebraska Business Development Center. (Courtesy of Weiland Inc.)

Weiland’s son and two sons-in-law  later joined the leadership team. Jason Ash, one of the sons-in-law, said he became the ninth employee in 2009. The company has since grown to more than 50 workers and has averaged 18% growth annually for several years, he said.

Ash credits the NBDC and Kucera with helping to identify and assemble financing for the 60,000-square-foot plant that makes doors and windows to withstand the wear, tear and sanitary demands of meatpacking and food plants.

“We still keep in touch,” he said. “It’s more like catching up with an old friend. We couldn’t have gotten where we are without him.”

‘Wow factor’

For Goeller and Dickinson of Timberlyne, NBDC was especially key when their timber framing business — which started in 2004 as Sand Creek Post & Beam — was ready to expand around 2008. 

The NBDC and Kucera helped the company founders tap into the various financing sources necessary to buy and transform a bank structure into a corporate headquarters in Wayne.

Timberlyne custom home in southern Nebraska featuring a rustic, elegant interior. (Courtesy of Timberlyne)

“They figured out all the players,” Goeller said. “I’m sorry, that was way too complex for a young company.” 

The evolving business today is buoyed by the rising popularity of mass timber construction, which uses factory engineered building material made from layers of wood fused into beams and panels. It’s considered an eco-friendly and efficient alternative to steel or concrete. 

Timberlyne’s production facilities now include a sawmill operation in Minnesota and a timber frame production facility in Texas. Annual sales, on average, Goeller said, are upwards of $50 million, and employees number about 200.

Building at 1501 Mike Fahey St. is being constructed in large part with mass timber produced at a Timberlyne plant. Photo is from Aug. 15, 2023. (Courtesy of Timberlyne)

Timberlyne’s wood materials are represented in numerous Nebraska structures, including the new addition currently under construction at the UNL Architecture Hall, said Goeller, who, along with her husband, is a UNL graduate.

She said the company’s mass timber also is the “wow factor” at 1501 Fahey St. in downtown Omaha. That $57 million mixed-use complex is in the Kiewit Corp.-anchored Builder’s District.

While Goeller said that her relationship with NBDC and Kucera have shifted to more of a sounding board, she’s comforted knowing the staff is available.

“They’ll head you in the right direction,” she said.

 

NBDC nudges growth

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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.

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