Just over a year ago, Andrew Tuzson and his wife, Angela, were living in Denver but getting ready to make a move to Nebraska.

The couple had had it with Denver's long commute time. 

"With the three kids, we were really, really ready for a change of pace. We were really wanting to inject ourselves into a community that was really family-focused," Andrew Tuzson said. 

They created lists and looked at opportunities. Lincoln remained at the top of those lists because of the family aspect and its booming economy, he said. 

Tuzson grew up in western Nebraska, but had been gone for years, the past 12 in Colorado, where he and Angela, who's from Wichita, Kansas, started a business in their basement. 

They decided to visit Lincoln, and while here, check out office space in the Haymarket. Even before they got in their car to head back to Colorado they had made up their minds, Andrew Tuzson said.

"Yeah, let's do this." 

They haven't looked back.

The Tuzsons have been doing business in Lincoln since May 20 as Evol Empire Creative, a web-design, development and marketing agency. Evol Empire now has 23 employees, several recruited from Seattle and San Diego.

"You name it, we do a lot of importing if the talent doesn't already exist here in Lincoln," Andrew Tuzson said.

Nebraska economic development experts also have their sights set on attracting talent to the state. 

With a low unemployment rate — 3.4 percent in December, compared with 4.7 percent nationally and a 2.8 percent rate for Lancaster and Seward counties — and a limited pool of workers that can be added to the labor force, state officials say it's critical to seek ways to not only retain the current workforce but attract new people. 

Nebraskans 25 and older with bachelor’s degrees or more education left the state between 2011 and 2015 at a rate of 11,861 each year. 

In the past decade, Nebraska governors and their agencies have preached a common theme -- Grow Nebraska — with businesses and workers. A year ago, Gov. Pete Ricketts hired Courtney Dentlinger to lead the Department of Economic Development. 

"We're a relatively unknown quantity outside of the borders of Nebraska," she said then. "So we need to tell our story and explain why Nebraska's a great place to do business." 

The state is poised for significant economic growth, given its current job openings and opportunities and low cost of living, combined with high rankings in quality of life and doing business, the department said. 

But a primary concern is whether businesses looking to relocate or expand will be able to find sufficient qualified workers to fill their positions. 

Many of the people who are migrating here to work are helping tell Nebraska's story, and lure others here. 

Beth McKeon, 37, managing director of NMotion and a serial entrepreneur, came to Lincoln a year ago from Lawrence, Kansas, after looking for a company in the Midwest that was supporting startups.

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She heard about the job opening at NMotion.

"Literally, the whole thing from initial contact to moving to Nebraska took less than three weeks, and it was over the Christmas holidays," she said. 

Lincoln was an ideal choice, McKeon said.

"NMotion, as an organization, has been very successful at recruiting from out of state. And I think that's a testament to both the strength of the program, but also what's happening here in Lincoln," she said.

NMotion, with four employees, provides education and resources for tech startups, with the primary product being a 90-day accelerator program. Funding comes from the University of Nebraska, the Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development and private companies.

The state is working to recruit workers by developing a talent portal, NEworks, to increase qualified, diverse talent for job opportunities.

The Department of Economic Development calls it a one-stop shop to promote Nebraska as a great place to live, work and play, through job and training opportunities, and with the appeals of culture, quality of life and community engagement.

According to the department's grant application for the project, the talent portal will target 25- to 34-year-olds, the most-mobile age range, by showcasing the proximity and access to outdoor recreation and natural resources, as well as arts, music and film venues. The website will provide information on Nebraska communities, affordable housing, safety, health care, demographics, climate and comparable cost of living.

Nearly 57,000 job openings were advertised on the NEworks website in December, according to the Nebraska Department of Labor. That's more than three job ads for every two unemployed people. 

In 2016, the Nebraska Department of Economic Development surveyed 263 businesses that import capital from outside the region. Nearly 50 percent had increasing employment needs and 80 percent reported recruitment problems.

The health care industry is one that has a high demand for workers, and not enough supply. 

Lincoln's Bryan Health employs 4,500 people and has a 5 percent vacancy rate, said Jan Garvin, vice president for human resources. Patient demand continues to grow.

The demand for nurses can't only be met by the women and men graduating from nursing education programs in the state, she said. Those graduates have many options for nursing careers in addition to hospitals, Garvin said. Besides nurses, Bryan is competing for people to fill many other jobs at its hospitals.

One option for it and other health-related businesses is to tap into the growing number of immigrants coming to Nebraska, Garvin said. To address language and cultural barriers, Bryan has offered on-site English classes and other resources.

Nebraska also has a growing need for technology workers. 

In 2015, the state had the third-fastest rate of growth in technology jobs in the country, according to Dice, a careers website for technology and engineering professionals.

"Wayne Gretzky said it best, right?" Andrew Tuzson said. "He doesn't go to where the puck is. He goes to where it's going to be. And the Silicon Prairie is where that puck is heading.

"What's happening here in Nebraska is turning heads across the country."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.


State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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