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Iowa, Nebraska forge economic collaboration to foster growth in highly populated border region

by Laura Tomaka ~ February 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
In January, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad signed a proclamation initiating a new regional economic collaboration between southeast Nebraska and southwest Iowa.
Through the agreement, Advance Southwest Iowa — a recently established public-private partnership of Council Bluffs, Iowa, city government, economic developers and business groups — formally joined the Greater Omaha (Nebraska) Economic Development Partnership, a 20-year-old partnership that works to create jobs, attract investment and grow the region’s economy.
Both governors are touting the collaboration as a step to help the region gain greater national exposure and attract more business. The eight-county Omaha-Council Bluffs region has a population of nearly 900,000.
The effort will implement a five-year regional economic-development plan that includes:
• creating, growing and recruiting businesses and jobs;
• developing a recognizable brand and image for the cross-state region;
• creating a pro-growth business climate; and
• retaining and recruiting the workforce for future growth.
“With a cross-state collaboration on business recruitment and expansion, I believe this regional approach creates a rising tide that lifts all boats,” Nebraska Sen. Heath Mello says.
The new cross-state partnership, while looking toward areas of future growth, will also tap into the region’s current strengths and areas of competitive advantage.
“One industry where I believe we can see significant growth in collaboration is in data centers,” Mello says. "With recent additions of Yahoo, Google and Travelers [Insurance] to the region, I believe the joint focus on building sites and workforce development will be enhanced.”
Another opportunity Mello sees emerging from the collaboration is a new focus on the region’s workforce needs and how both states are seeking to meet the growing demand for skilled workers.
The collaboration exemplifies a growing trend in economic development that recognizes the commonalities of regions regardless of governmental boundaries, as well as the growing recognition that regional economies are intertwined.
“The closely shared pro-growth economic goals of the greater Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area provide a new case study in regional economic collaboration,” Mello says of the partnership’s focus on entrepreneurship and innovation, business retention and expansion, and talent recruitment.
No other current cross-state collaboration in the nation focuses on all these areas in this way.
“The real opportunity for the Midwest region is in following this unique cross-state collaboration and transferring the concept to neighboring states,” Mello says. “Whether it’s Iowa and Illinois or Ohio and Indiana, regional clusters and collaboratives can only strengthen the Midwest economy.”
A focus on this type of collaboration is one that the Midwestern Legislative Conference’s Economic Development Committee has been exploring for several years. Mello, current co-chair of that group, is hopeful that this new effort will further that work.
“The MLC Economic Development Committee will be inviting this Nebraska-Iowa initiative to our upcoming meeting in Omaha in 2014 to walk policymakers through the opportunities of expanding this approach to their states and communities,” he says.


Article written by Laura Tomaka, staff liaison to the Midwestern Legislative Conference Economic Development Committee. The committee's co-chairs are Michigan Rep. Eileen Kowall and Nebraska Sen. Heath Mello.