Business editor/reporter

Matt Olberding is a Lincoln native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been covering business for the Journal Star since 2005.


Nelnet's offices on Capitol Parkway.

We all know that at most companies, the top executive makes a lot more than rank-and-file employees. But this year, for the first time, publicly traded companies have to reveal how big that gap really is.

The new disclosure rule is part of the Dodd-Frank Act passed way back in 2010. Public companies have for years had to disclose the annual pay of a handful of their top executives, but this year for the first time, they have to report the median salaries of employees as well as how that compares with the salary of the top executive.

Lincoln is home to only two publicly traded companies, and only one of those companies, Nelnet, had filed its annual proxy statement as of last week.

According to the filing, Nelnet CEO Jeff Noordhoek made about $1.74 million last year, which was about 48 times the median salary of $36,200 for virtually all of Nelnet's more than 4,000 employees (the company was allowed to exclude the 20 employees of an Australian subsidiary).

That sounded like a large gap to me, and it probably does to you, too. But it isn't.

Navient, which is Nelnet's chief competitor in the student finance space, paid its CEO about $6.46 million last year, which was 147 times its median employee salary of $43,865.

I also picked some other companies for comparison's sake. They are either Nebraska-based companies or national firms with a significant local or regional presence. Here's the ratio between CEO and median employee pay for each company in descending order:

Wells Fargo: 291-1

PayPal: 274-1

Capital One: 261-1

Union Pacific: 166-1

Fiserv: 151-1

Zoetis: 150-1

Teledyne: 131-1

Valmont: 91-1

Zillow: 65-1

Berkshire Hathaway: 2-1

The highest ratio as of Friday, according to Bloomberg, was for toy company Mattel, whose CEO made 4,987 times what the company's median employee made. The average ratio for the 1,000 biggest public companies was 127-1.

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Where are the highest home prices?

Where do you think Nebraska's highest home prices are? In Douglas County? Sarpy? Lancaster?

Those were my first guesses. If pressed further, I might have said Buffalo County, because I have heard prices are high in Kearney.

I asked the Twitterverse earlier this month, and about half the people who responded said Sarpy County, with a few Douglas and Lancaster counties sprinkled in.

The answer, however, lies a little bit north. According to personal finance website 24/7 Wall St., the county with the highest home prices in Nebraska is Washington County, with a median price of $206,862. The website used data from the National Association of Realtors, so it should be fairly accurate.

I have to confess that I don't know a lot about Washington County, other than it's home to Blair, the former Dana College campus and the soon-to-be-closed Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant.

Despite what may seem to be a relatively high price by Nebraska standards, the median price in Washington County was actually the third-lowest highest price out of all the states. Only Oklahoma and Arkansas had lower median home prices in their highest-priced counties.

Listing the lists

I often use this column to give an update on recent national rankings that Lincoln and/or Nebraska have made, and this time is no exception. Here are some of the recent accolades:

* City with the third-most financially savvy residents, SmartAsset

* Third among cities where residents are well-suited for personal financial advice, SmartAsset

* Best city for millennials with student debt, RewardExpert

Best of the Buzz

An excerpt from a recent Biz Buzz post:

* According to a recent application to the Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Department, Panera Bread Co. plans a new location at 62nd and O streets, across the street from Gateway.

The application says the 6,000-square-foot building housing Great China Buffet at 6145 O St. would be torn down, and a 4,800-square-foot Panera would be built in its place.

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Go to Journalstar.com/bizbuzz to read more Biz Buzz posts.

Have a business news tip? Send it to businessnews@journalstar.com.


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