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Progress Nelnet at Hudl, 2.13

Workspaces at Nelnet offices in the West Haymarket allow for plenty of flexibility, with chairs, desks and monitors that adjust to the individual user.

The Midwest’s budding tech industry may be called the Silicon Prairie, but it needs workers to help sow the seeds that will create future growth.

Given the demand for those employees, however, they’re often few and far between. Competition among businesses and cities is frequently fierce.

Bearing that in mind, the recently announced Opportunities in Tech partnership between Lincoln and Omaha – including both chambers of commerce and a variety of companies in both cities – marks a positive development. Rather than having the state’s two largest metro areas attempt to poach talent from each other, collaborating to recruit it to the area makes so much sense.

With so many ties binding Lincoln and Omaha, their pull becomes stronger when the cities work as one instead of against one another. Rather being divided in hopes of conquering, this “super region” with 1.3 million residents, as Lincoln Chamber of Commerce President Wendy Birdsall calls it, becomes more powerful with the combined resources of both communities.

The mutual benefit becomes clear when one looks at Lincoln’s leading high-tech employers. Many of them – Hudl, Nelnet, Spreetail, etc. – are headquartered in the capital city but have offices and presences in Omaha. Given their proximity, many employees commute between the two cities.

With the dearth of available employees forcing these companies to turn to remote workers or offices in larger tech hubs in other states, Nebraska needs every advantage possible in its attempts to lure these workers to the Cornhusker State.

Though it’s not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, the folly of such high-stakes competition between geographic neighbors can be seen in the Kansas City metro area.

Businesses have long played Missouri and Kansas against one another to see which state offers the best tax incentives, often jumping back and forth across state lines in a process that’s cost hundreds of millions of dollars over an arbitrary line on a map. After years of this border war, leaders both states are examining the best way to end this expensive game of tag.

Lincoln and Omaha could easily have fallen into a similar trap. Instead, they’ve correctly realized both communities benefit from growing the pool of available workers in these good-paying jobs. It follows in the footsteps of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development Partnership, which has united similar organizations in six counties “in the metropolitan region for the benefit of all.”

If either Lincoln or Omaha win in attracting new talent, the other will benefit. The large number of entertainment options in and the short distance between these cities mean that a resident of one community will almost certainly spend money in the other.

That’s a good thing – and indicative of the broad thinking required for Nebraska to grow its workforce well into the coming years and beyond.

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