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Omaha Economic Outlook 12/24/14  12/23/14 10:48:47 PM Printer Friendly VersionPrinter Friendly Version


Bruce Katz proved to be a dynamic speaker who was given a warm reception at the Chamber’s annual Economic Outlook event.
Omaha Economic Outlook
Future Both Challenging And Promising

By Lorraine Boyd
The Daily Record

The Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce recently held their annual Economic Outlook luncheon, featuring economist and author Bruce Katz, a Brookings Institution vice president.
He told the crowd of nearly 800 people that the future is all about cities and metros “stepping up and growing their own economies.”
“We’re still the preeminent economy in the world,” he said. “The people of this country are keeping it that way by taking charge and not waiting for Washington to pave the way.”
National assets, he said, are concentrated in metropolitan areas.
Before the Great Recession, the economy was about debt and consumption, Katz said. But that was a wake-up call and people went back to the basics in the past half-decade. They realized that small businesses and manufacturing drive consumption and the economy. They didn’t wait for the federal, or even the states, to help them. They took charge of their own destiny.
The paperback version of The Metropolitan Revolution, which Katz co-authored, came out December 11. In it, he studies the methods used in several metropolitan areas, including northeast Ohio; Denver; Houston; Portland, Ore.; and Detroit. Each used a different model, but all used local resources to realize their goals. Businesses came together in northeast Ohio to revitalize manufacturing there.
New York’s leaders realized they needed to diversify because they were too dependent on the investment industry. Private investors put $2 billion toward applied sciences.
Portland realized its place as an export powerhouse and concentrated on “green” sustainable products to sell to an eager China market.
Turning away from the collapse of oil and gas as a major source of their economy, the leaders in Denver came together to bet on arts and culture. “They laid down their arms. The Metro Mayors Caucus meets four times a year,” Katz said. “They have collaborated to complete “FasTracks,” a 122-mile light rail system. They call it a 100-year plan, noting that most of the counties’ transportation systems were built a century ago.”
Katz said that America has to manufacture goods, to innovate, in order to get growing again. Factions must come together and compete outside, not with each other. Collaboration is key, he said. “We can compete. Everyone is globally connected.”
He gave advice to local leaders on how to proceed.
There needs to be collaboration across lines, he noted. Communities need to get “a sense of who they are, their special niche.”
First, network to “Figure out who you are, then do it on purpose.”
Second, “Set your vision.”
Third, “Find your game-changer.”
Rethink who has the power, he urged. “Metros will lead. States and national will follow. In the next five years, place after place is going to stand up and say ‘We want to be in charge of our own destiny.’”
Katz said, “My last message to you is that we are still the preeminent economy in the world and the most advanced society in the world. And not because of 537 elected officials in Washington. People are saying, ‘I’m going to make this place better.’ This period will be historical.”
He said Omaha can be one of those growing cities. “Omaha has great bones going back 150 years. What will you do with your possibilities? Forget about Washington – you can do it. The next decade is going to be spectacular.”
The Local Challenges
The annual meeting always features a look at the state of the economy in Greater Omaha and makes some predictions about the near future. This year featured some taped messages, projected on the giant screens, by several business leaders whose companies sponsor the event annually.
Those sponsors each had a specific interest in the future of their industry and their organization. Lamp Rynearson & Associates engineering firm’s president Michael McMeekin, expressed alarm at the declining condition and insufficient investment in  infrastructure, especially public transportation, in our city compared to other cities.
Paul Grieger, managing director at D.A. Davidson Companies, identified cybersecurity and regulatory changes as current and coming challenges for the financial industry. He said his firm is investing in its employees and infrastructure.
Mike Homa, president of Mutual of Omaha Bank’s Nebraska operations, concurred that cybersecurity was a major concern and focus of their company.
Robert Mitchell, Deloitte accounting firm’s office managing partner, echoed Grieger’s concerns about regulatory oversight. He also said his company had been adapting to the needs of its younger employees, including their desire for flexible work space and experience.
Among those appearing was Baird Holm law firm’s managing partner Richard Putnam.  He said that ever since the economic downturn, the firm’s clients have not only focused on growth, but also on efficiency and value. The firm is also devoting resources to combat privacy and cybersecurity concerns. He said it’s all about “how we can focus on our clients’ value and the value they are looking for.”
He enumerated three steps in Baird Holm’s plan for the future:
1. It starts with the people. It always starts with the people. It’s a given that we hire the best and the brightest, but we need to make sure we are strategically aligning our hires with the needs of our clients;
2. [Acquiring] a better understanding of their clients’ businesses;
3. Narrowing our scope. To meet the value proposition, we have to narrow our focus, take what we do best and build upon that.
His firm remains upbeat about the coming year. “There is a substantial amount of money still on the sidelines, and assisting our clients with the deployment of those funds will be a major focus,” he said.
For a look at the Chamber’s Economic Outlook report of survey results and trends, visit OmahaChamber.org/EconomicOutlook.
 
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