By: Anthony Pafford Issue: Transformation Section: Government
Nebraska’s Evolution from Agriculture to Innovation
The storied 109-year history of the Nebraska State Fair in Lincoln isn’t lost on any Nebraskan. After relocating the “Grand Dame” to Grand Island in 2010, ground is being broken at the former state fairgrounds for new, as of yet uncharted, history to be made in the shape of future economic development. In many ways there is considerable crossover in what took place for more than a century and what is about to take place for the next century and, hopefully, beyond.
In the past, the State Fair celebrated the current and future growth of Nebraska’s number-one industry—agriculture—in all forms. Whether it was the Future Farmers of America showing their prize livestock, or implement dealers featuring the newest, state-of-the-art machinery; whether it was children competing in feats of endurance such as pedal tractor competitions, or people vying for blue ribbons for quilts, canned goods or photographs, the 10-day annual event symbolized Nebraska’s collective goals and dreams for a prosperous and comfortable future.
Now, in 2012, plans are taking shape for new, yet reminiscent, kinds of goals and dreams to be realized in the form of collaboration, communication, cutting edge research and intellectual property development related to the areas of food, fuel and water on the newly christened Innovation Campus. It is here where university, government and private-sector entities will work cooperatively to solve issues that are critical to Nebraska, and globally. Always woven into this objective are common desires for a prosperous and comfortable future for all involved.
What’s more, since the University of Nebraska joined the Big Ten Conference, it stands at the cusp of even more exciting ecological, biological and life-altering discoveries, from intellectual drawing boards and research laboratories to tangible products. Is there any doubt that the University of Nebraska’s Innovation Campus may very well become one of the premier—if not the premier—international institutions of its kind? And, the Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED) is positioned to play an integral role in the future research, development and subsequent created intellectual properties and potential new company formation that takes place at the Innovation Campus.
This past legislative session saw the rollout of the new Talent and Innovation Initiative (TI2) administered by DED. The program has been enthusiastically embraced in the brief time in which it’s been in place. The four-part TI2 includes the InternNE program, Business Innovation Act, Site and Building Development Fund and Angel Investment Tax Credit.
InternNE, a partnership with Nebraska businesses to create new, quality paid internships for college and university students, has received 193 business applications, of which 141 companies have been approved, with 403 intern positions created of which 121 are currently filled with interns earning an average $11.41 an hour, resulting in $1.847 million in funds awarded to date.
The Business Innovation Act (BIA) helps businesses develop new technologies and leverage innovation, resulting in the creation of higher-paying jobs. BIA will distribute approximately $9 million during FY2011-2012 and another $9 million during FY2012-13 to small business owners and entrepreneurs via competitive matching grants for research, development and innovation and outreach services.
Included under the BIA umbrella are The Nebraska Innovation Fund-Prototyping (pre-seed stage) that awards up to $50,000 grants per project to create prototypes of products growing out of research and development at businesses operating in Nebraska, or from research at in-state public or private colleges or universities. Of the 30 applications received thus far (four in distressed areas), 14 (three in distressed areas) have been approved and received $698,125, leaving $301,875 to fund future projects.
Taking the process one step further, the Nebraska Innovation Fund-Commercialization awards $500,000 per seed stage investment project for commercialization of a Nebraska-based business or individual’s prototype or process. Currently, six applications are pending for some of the available $3 million in funding.
The Nebraska Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Initiative financially helps individuals and businesses in Nebraska with applications into the Federal SBIR (Phase 0) and provides matching funds for successful applications (Phases 1 and 2), with total funds available of $1 million. Currently, three businesses have applied and two are approved for Phase 0 for $10,000 total. Two Phase 1 applicants have been approved for $195,000 total, and three Phase 2 applicants are approved for $300,000 total.
The Microenterprise Technical Assistance Fund helps with financial packaging needs, including identifying and determining which programs are the best fit for growing microenterprises in Nebraska. Currently one application has been approved for $300,000 for the next two years.
The Microenterprise Lending Program (micro-lending) encourages and supports implementation of Nebraska-based technology and innovation throughout the state’s rural and urban areas to create high-growth, high-technology businesses and to attract and grow quality jobs and more wealth to the area. As of March 15, three applications had been received.
The two-phase Research and Development Fund has received and approved two applications for $200,000 of the $1 million available as part of Phase 1. No applications have been received for the $2 million available under Phase 2.
The ongoing Site and Building Development Fund is designed to help communities build available industrial sites and buildings for businesses with rapid development trajectories.
The Angel Investment Tax Credit encourages investors to commit to high-tech start-up Nebraska enterprises by providing those who qualify with 35 four percent refundable state income tax credits. So far in 2012, $1,551,166 in credits have been approved.
Other key Nebraska economic development initiatives include The Small Business Innovation Economic Gardening Program, which has received 13 and approved four applications—two from distressed areas—for $130,000. The program provides $400,000 total to eligible state service providers and nonprofit organizations offering technical assistance to eligible Nebraska-based businesses.
Gallup’s Entrepreneurial Acceleration System, a mentorship program that matches new small business owners and entrepreneurs with trained and certified mentor guides recently certified 46 guides who will now assist 160 companies and 746 managers, impacting 4,939 employees.
The State Small Business Credit Initiative, which includes the Nebraska Progress Loan Fund and Invest Nebraska Angel Sidecar Fund, provides loans to qualifying small businesses and has received seven applications and awarded one applicant $300,000 of an available $8.7 million.
The Invest Nebraska Angel provides early investment capital that matches private angel fund investments in start-up businesses that develop, modify or employ new technology. Currently no applications are pending for the available $3.86 million of funding that can be used for advanced intellectual property development and evaluation, advanced proof of concept work for scientific discovery, advanced prototype design and development, hiring key personnel, and other related activities.
When these comprehensive initiatives are combined with the existing Nebraska Advantage incentives, it’s very clear that the state is positioned as a top development contender to which other states and countries will be measuring themselves.