Free Enterprise Staff  | August 27, 2015

This City’s Problem: Too Many Jobs, Too Few Workers

Building on Success

The Lincoln metropolitan area has a lot going for it when it comes to education. Its residents, for instance, are among the highest in terms of educational attainment in the U.S., with an outsized share graduating from both high school and college. Local and state officials are continually working to cultivate this kind of environment, one that has helped attract all kinds of businesses from a diverse range of industries.

On this front, Lincoln actually has a unique problem other cities would envy: Many employers are growing so quickly that they are unable to find qualified workers. The Nebraska Department of Economic Development is actively working with the business community to address this issue through a number of initiatives, including the Nebraska Customized Training Grant Program.

At its core, the program is engineered to help craft a state and local workforce that is equipped with the kinds of skills that employers are increasingly demanding of them. Offered to businesses that help maintain and grow Nebraska’s jobs economy, the training initiative provides training assistance to companies, which partner with local community colleges to develop specialized job training programs.

Banding Together for the Future

Dozens of advanced manufacturing companies are headquartered in Lincoln, which has traditionally served as a hub for the specialized industry. This is a designation the city has no plans on giving up in the future, even as competition heats up from both nearby and international municipalities.

Advanced manufacturing jobs routinely pay high wages, after all, and they are the kinds of positions that are not easily replaced with automation. There are a number of organizations that work with state and city leaders to promote this important subset of Lincoln’s economy, including the Nebraska Manufacturing Advisory Council (NeMAC) and the Dream It Do It project.

Created through a concerted effort undertaken by Nebraska’s Department of Economic Development, NeMac works directly with government stakeholders in Lincoln and elsewhere across the state to identify ways to promote and grow its manufacturing sector. It does this directly alongside state agencies such as the departments of Labor, Education, and Economic Development.

The Dream It Do It project has a similar aim: Founded by industry groups, it combines outreach and education efforts to raise awareness of the advanced manufacturing and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) sectors.

These and other like-minded organizations are working together to highlight economic opportunities and drive interest in the industry, particularly among young people who might not grasp the kinds of opportunities available in advanced and other forms of manufacturing.

Building an Entrepreneurial Culture

You can’t just depend on existing businesses, though, to prop up an entire regional economy. You need to create a culture that allows entrepreneurs to thrive. Having a world-class university at your backdoor helps on this front.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a major research university that plays a key role in supporting the surrounding economy through both educational and employment opportunities. It has, over the past decade, also moved to attract and cultivate the kinds of students interested in entrepreneurship.

It’s attacking this issue with its characteristic enthusiasm. Among its most popular programs is its Center for Entrepreneurship, which offers undergraduate and graduate coursework and services like co-working spaces and mentorship programs to help students of all ages work toward the goal of starting and building a business.

There Are Riches in (Entreprenuerial) Niches

But UNL doesn’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to entrepreneurship. It offers a number of specialized intensive programs through standalone centers, including its Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program. The initiative leverages the state’s position as a global agricultural hub to help students acquire the skills and tools they’ll need to build their own agribusinesses.

Yet the Nebraska Innovation Campus (NIC) is arguably the university’s most ambitious entrepreneurship-focused effort. Located next to UNL’s campus, the NIC is an ambitious project that brings together private companies and the university to help spur all aspects of the area’s entrepreneurial economy.

When completed, the NIC will include 2.2 million square feet of space designed to allow entrepreneurs to take advantage of UNL’s research facilities and intellectual capital, as well as the experience and guidance provided by its partner organizations.

In keeping with its strategic mission, the NIC comprises a number of projects that aim to upend specific sectors. Created through a partnership between UNL and private companies like ConAgra Foods, the NIC’s Food Innovation Center is dedicated to building public-private partnerships and tackling daunting obstacles that loom in the future.

Always Look Forward 

Though Lincoln already enjoys a unique economic position, these and other educational and economic initiatives clearly demonstrate that the city is firmly focused on its future.

Not content to rest on its laurels, Lincoln is spearheading a new path forward, one that other cities are following as they look toward cultivating the kind of innovative and entrepreneurial economy that is built to last.

What is #SiliconCitiesUSA?

Over the course of this year, we’re exploring how entrepreneurs and businesses are faring in non-major U.S. cities, beginning with Des Moines, Iowa. We’ll be reporting on the ground from each city, talking with elected officials and business leaders about how they’re harnessing their unique resources and local talent to fuel economic growth and better compete against more established urban centers like San Francisco and New York City.