Chamber leaders outline legislative priorities


Chamber leaders outline legislative priorities

Fremont Tribune

In the coming years legislation addressing workforce development could have as big an impact on business as legislation addressing tax issues.

The need for additional workforce development was outlined during a Legislative Luncheon hosted Wednesday by the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Fremont Area Chamber of Commerce. The annual luncheon at Midland University provides an update for local business and education leaders about legislation that might affect their operations.

Barry Kennedy, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the most important tax issue addressed during the past legislative session was contained in LB987. The bill, Kennedy said, accomplished one of the state chamber’s long-term priorities in that it addressed the indexing of income brackets. He said Nebraska had been one of the few states to address indexing, which prevents people from taking a bigger tax hit for moving up in their pay scale.

There was no landmark legislation passed addressing economic development, Kennedy said. But one action the Legislature did take was to extend the sunset date from 2015 to 2017 for the Nebraska Advantage Act.

Kennedy said the act is the primary tool for attracting businesses to the state or expanding businesses that are already here. The act, he said, has helped to create 27,000 jobs and about $11 billion worth of investment in the state over the past eight years.

Roberta Pinkerton, director of the state chamber’s Leadership Nebraska Program, said businesses around the state have identified workforce development as the biggest hurdle to further economic development. She said a survey of about 1,200 business indicated 52 percent of businesses faced difficulty finding skilled workers. A quarter of those businesses indicated the lack of available skilled labor was hindering their businesses potential.

“So not only are they having trouble filling the position they have available, it’s keeping them from growing and expanding,” Pinkerton said. “We’re at 3.6 percent unemployment, which tells us that a lot of the people that are employable are already working, so that adds to the complication.”

Another factor affecting economic development in the state is the loss of thousands of college graduates to other states.

“We’ve also seen the re-emergence of brain drain,” she said. “The latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows Nebraska lost a net of nearly 8,000 college graduates to out-migration over the past two years.”

With projections indicating 66 percent of Nebraska jobs will require post-secondary education by 2018, Pinkerton said the state needs to act to keep skilled employees in Nebraska.

One way the state chamber is working to do so is through, which offers students of two and four-year colleges the opportunity to get into businesses and see what is available in the state.

Pinkerton said about 50 percent of interns go on to become employees of the companies they interned with. Since 2011, 700 students and 370 businesses have participated in the program.

Other strategies the chamber is taking part in to build a stronger workforce include early childhood education initiatives, career academies and the Dream It Do It program.

Pinkerton said the chamber has also started a new initiative, The Good Life for Veterans, which seeks to recruit individuals retiring or separating from the military to move to Nebraska to start a career.

Although work is to be done in spurring economic development, Kennedy said Nebraska is in good shape as it heads into a new legislative session with a $708 million cash reserve.

Looking to the next session, which is a budget year, Kennedy said he expects there will be 17 to 20 new state senators, with at least seven new committee chairs.

State Sen. Charlie Janssen briefly addressed those gathered at the luncheon. Janssen said from bills passed during the past legislative session, businesses can expect to see a 22 percent increase in the state property tax credit and a decrease in property taxes. Overall, he said, Nebraskans will see $400 million in tax relief over the next five years.

“It’s going the right way, and that’s a good thing,” he said. “We obviously hope a lot of these things get the economy going.”