Mike Cassling Leads Initiative to Bring Tech Workers to Nebraska
The following article was originally featured in the McCook Gazette on April 23, 2020.
Too often, I worry that business leaders fall into a trap unique to Nebraska.
Businesses, both start-ups and large companies headquartered here, can be vital economic engines for our state. Leaders accurately speak of how successful organizations have the potential to create jobs, support innovation and provide a higher quality of life for all residents.
But do these ambitions extend past Omaha and Lincoln?
Given the way Nebraska’s population is clustered, my concern is that, when executives talk about business growth and job creation, what they really mean is growth exclusive to the Eastern-most edge of the state.
That’s a problem. By focusing only on the economic development of Nebraska’s most populous areas, we fracture our community, depriving vital areas of important resources that can fuel their own growth and success. The entire state suffers, as we miss out on important points of view as well as the talents of hard-working individuals who live in rural areas and smaller cities.
The Nebraska Tech Collaborative, an Aksarben Workforce Initiative, aims to rectify this common shortfall of past development projects whose efforts concentrated solely on metropolitan areas “Collaborative” is right there in our name. We think there’s an untapped opportunity to connect technology companies with the manufacturing and agricultural sectors that comprise so much of our state’s national and international output.
Not only must we focus on creating and fostering jobs in the technology space, we have to be thinking about how we can use technological capabilities to further support industries like production, livestock and harvesting, iterating upon what works and optimizing systems in a way that makes our state’s farmers and equipment producers efficient, successful and financially secure.
The first step in this ambitious goal is an issue that is too often neglected: rural broadband access. Nebraska ranks 48th in this category among all states. Vast swaths of our state simply do not have access to the sorts of speeds that urban and suburban areas take for granted.
The kinds of partnerships that benefit rural Nebraska can only be successful if there’s a level playing field between all portions of the state. Not only does communication suffer without ready access to high-speed internet, but the ability to create jobs in areas other than Omaha and Lincoln is hindered when persons who could technically work from anywhere are prohibited from doing so. In such a scenario, talented individuals who would love to stick around the town they grew up in are forced to take their talents east.
We can and must do better. Together with out-of-state partners, municipal leaders and business advocates, the Nebraska Tech Collaborative is focused on how we can solve the issue of rural broadband access and begin the lengthy but important process of getting our state more connected than ever before.
It’s our duty to provide bountiful opportunity for all Nebraska, not just the areas with the largest population clusters. And connectivity is the first step.