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Mayor appoints economic recovery task force to help forge Lincoln's pandemic recovery
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Mayor appoints economic recovery task force to help forge Lincoln's pandemic recovery

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Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird announced the creation of a task force to help guide the city's economic rebound from the pandemic.

While the city has focused on addressing the immediate public health crisis and economic challenges, the task force will help guide a public-private effort to forge Lincoln's economic recovery, Gaylor Baird said. 

During the pandemic, Lancaster County's unemployment rate rose from 2.5% to 9.5%, marking the first time in more than 30 years the county's unemployment has risen over 5%, the mayor said. 

And business owners across Nebraska have worried about going under, she said.

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"How do we restore and rebuild our community's assets, wealth and opportunities?" Gaylor Baird said of the next phase of the response.

To lead this effort, Gaylor Baird appointed Union Bank and Trust President and CEO Angie Muhleisen and Journal Star President and Publisher Ava Thomas to spearhead the group, which she's calling the Mayor's Economic Recovery Task Force.

Angie Muhleisen

Angie Muhleisen

Muhleisen and her Union Bank and Trust team earned high marks from the mayor for their work processing the second-highest number of business loan applications for the Paycheck Protection Program in the nation. 

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve on the Mayor’s Economic Recovery Task Force," Muhleisen said in a statement to the Journal Star. "This crisis has yielded lots of data — statistical and anecdotal — about how businesses have pivoted and succeeded. By collaborating we can share ideas that help build up our community by assisting employers and employees.”

Gaylor Baird credited the work of Thomas and the Journal Star to create a buy local campaign geared toward helping local businesses during the pandemic, and the Journal Star's parent company, Lee Enterprises, awarded marketing grants to local businesses.

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Thomas echoed Muhleisen's gratitude at the opportunity. 

"I’m honored to serve on the Mayor’s Economic Recovery Task Force alongside Angie -- a pillar of this incredible community," Thomas said. "I’m looking forward to working with the many others who will support this effort as well.

Ava Thomas

Ava Thomas

"The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed stress points in our community. We have the opportunity to address inclusivity, business and quality-of-life issues, share and adapt solutions and emerge stronger and better prepared for the next challenge Lincoln will face.”

Thomas and Muhleisen said the task force will seek community input from businesses and workers and borrow from the strategies deployed in other cities to marshal Lincoln's response. 

"We don’t have all the answers, and we don’t even know what the questions should be," Muhleisen said.

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The task force will develop strategies that are intentional, based on data and locally informed, she said. 

For example, the task force may examine the best retraining strategies for workers who are laid off, Muhleisen said. 

In its work, the task force will also keep in mind the disparate effects of the pandemic on the community's minority and elderly populations and find ways to increase the city's resiliency, Thomas said. 

Recommendations could include ways to help residents better access mental health services or help employers expand telecommuting capabilities, Thomas said.

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Additional members of the task force will be named in the coming days. 

The task force will work with the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce and Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development. 

Virtual meetings of the task force will begin in June with recommendations coming in August, the mayor said.

"We know that the need is urgent and critical," Gaylor Baird said, "and we want to be rapidly developing recommended response that then we can look to launch as public-private partnerships going forward."

Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or rjohnson@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.

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