OMAHA, Neb. — A Southwest Indiana Chamber delegation is taking a crash course in all things Omaha, a city that’s benefitting from robust philanthropy, a mix of business and industry and a signature event, the NCAA College World Series.
The group of 27 from Evansville arrived here Monday morning and departs Tuesday night. Mayor Lloyd Winnecke, University of Southern Indiana President Ron Rochon and representatives of Evansville’s business and nonprofit sectors are on the “Inter-City Leadership Visit.”
Government over the years has been a key player in Omaha’s progress, but the city’s achievements have been led by the private sector, said David Brown, President and CEO of the Greater Omaha Chamber.
Having residents such as Warren Buffett helps Omaha immensely, Brown said. But he said Buffett and other wealthy people in the city have created a culture of giving.
Berkshire Hathaway, Mutual of Omaha, Union Pacific and Offutt Air Force Base call Omaha home. The city also has a large medical community, including the University of Nebraska Medical Center, which Evansville guests visited Monday.
“The big difference in Omaha has been the willingness of big corporate leaders to stand up and lead,” Brown said.
He pointed to TD Ameritrade Park, whose opening in 2011 allowed the College World Series to remain in Omaha, as well as a riverfront development project, a fine arts center and Omaha’s zoo as examples of business-driven community improvements.
Those projects are having a cumulative effect on Omaha's mood. There's no mountains or ocean here, but Omaha is becoming more of a landing point and less of a fly-over city. The 2010 Census showed 409,000 people here; the 2018 estimate was nearly 467,000.
Omaha, however, focuses more on its future than its past.
The local Chamber recently rolled out a Prosper Omaha 2.0 vision, which lists as its five-year goals having 100 companies engaged in diversity and inclusion initiatives, 10,000 new trained technology workers, 100,000 career experiences for Omaha students and 10,000 people retrained for higher-skilled, better-paying jobs.
Improving public transportation services also is high on the city's agenda.
“There’s a common feeling that Omaha can be greater than it is," Brown said.
'WE DON'T COAST'
The community branding initiative, We Don’t Coast (Omaha’s version of E is for Everyone) reflects the forward-thinking approach.
E is for Everyone, launched in 2017, has been embraced by the Southwest Indiana Chamber and Evansville corporations. Response among Evansville residents has been more mixed, with some saying the slogan doesn't reflect their own experiences in the city.
Evansville officials say the E is for Everyone message will evolve, and in Omaha, the We Don't Coast brand also has been tweaked since its 2014 launch, said Kim Sellmeyer, creative director with the Greater Omaha Chamber.
The We Don't Coast messaging acknowledges Omaha has challenges and problems, but it encourages residents to do their part to solve them, Sellmeyer said.
"Imagine if we all tried not to coast. What could our community be if we all tried to not coast," Sellmeyer said, repeating the campaign's recent direction. "It's a message that all of us should try to help others."
Omaha officials have no plans to sunset the We Don't Coast branding. "This could just keep living," Sellmeyer said.
A REGIONAL APPROACH
Southwest Indiana Chamber CEO Tara Barney said she wanted to bring a group to Omaha because of its similarities to Evansville: a river community in the middle of the country in a bi-state region.
The eventual, anticipated completion of an Ohio River Interstate 69 bridge will bring the Evansville-Henderson area new opportunities. Barney said.
Omaha over the years has taken advantage of such opportunities, and Barney said Southwest Indiana and Western Kentucky can do the same.
"Omaha has very good lessons for how to lead a region and do it with respect," Barney said. "We haven't heard any discussion today about taking over different communities. We've heard about building up a value proposition that's good for all the parties."
About 15,000 people daily travel from Iowa communities to Omaha to work, while about 5,000 people from Omaha work in Iowa.
Brown said Omaha has fostered partnerships with all of its nearby communities, including Lincoln, Nebraska, about an hour away.
“I don’t care where a company lands, as long as it lands in this region,” Brown said.