The good news from Lincoln's 2014 Business Conditions & Indicators Report is that 42 of the 77 businesses surveyed said they plan to expand in the next three years, projecting they will spend more than $122 million and adding 805 employees.

The bad news is that they could face some issues finding some of those 805 employees.

One section of the Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development report is entitled "Local Business Climate," and it includes what businesspeople consider the city's strengths and weaknesses.

The No. 1 weakness listed by businesses was a lack of skilled labor. The lack of skilled labor also was listed as the No. 2 barrier to growth, behind availability and cost of land.

A shortage of skilled labor "does stunt growth," said Wendy Birdsall, president of both the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce and the Partnership for Economic Development.

"Anecdotally and even in this survey, it's the thing that comes up all the time," she said.

Eric Thompson, director of the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said the issue is not unique to Lincoln.

"It's a national problem that we're not immune to," Thompson said.

He said the problem has become more acute in the last few years as rapid advances in technology and changes in the economy have led to skills mismatches in many industries.

Lincoln is somewhat better off than many other cities because of the presence here of the state's flagship university as well as smaller colleges and a community college, Thompson says. But Lincoln's consistently low unemployment rate "does create some additional stresses" when it comes to finding skilled workers.

One of the industries in which the labor shortage is most acute is the technology sector.

Local executives have publicly and privately expressed concerns about their ability to find qualified software developers, programmers and others.

In an interview last month, Patrick Clyne, president of local software company MacPractice, said finding quality employees is the company's biggest challenge, and the challenge has only increased over the years as more tech start-ups have become successful and grown.

Hudl, a software company that has grown rapidly over the past few years, has for two years now been offering $10,000 "signing bonuses" to certain workers.

"In the tech space, there's been a shortage of people for years, and it's only getting worse," said Steve Kiene, a local tech entrepreneur and co-founder and managing principal of venture capital fund Nebraska Global.

Kiene said the response has been to try to solve the problem with quick fixes — bonuses, coding schools, etc. — that, in his opinion, don't really help.

Kiene said a proactive, more long-term approach that gets young people exposure to and experience in skilled professions is a better solution.

He said Nebraska Global has worked with kids as young as third grade in Community Learning Center programs to teach them coding.

He also said that he plans to work on a program that would provide high school students the opportunity to learn a level of coding or programming that would make them employable without having to spend four years in college.

Kiene said the same kinds of solutions are needed for other industries where skilled labor is in short supply.

He said he's a huge advocate of the Career Academy, the $25 million collaboration between Lincoln Public Schools and Southeast Community College that will train high school juniors and seniors in industrial and technical subjects and provide internships and college credit.

Rod Armstrong, vice president of strategic partnerships at IT advocacy organization AIM, said rapid training programs such as coding schools are necessary to fulfill the immediate demand at both start-up companies and large established companies. But he also agreed with Kiene that it's important to try to get young people interested in tech careers.

AIM has a program called CoderDojo that is a free program to introduce kids to coding.

Birdsall said the Career Academy as well as more internship programs are ways the community is trying to deal with the problem, but she also said Chamber and LPED officials recognize the need for more solutions. She said they plan to take the next three or four months working on ways they can help businesses fulfill their needs for talent.

In another sector, Nebraska manufacturers have for years been active in trying to recruit and interest students in learning the skills that drive their industries.  Dream It, Do It is the national name of organizations functioning in 20 states.  In Nebraska, it's run by the Nebraska Advanced Manufacturing Coalition.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.


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.

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