State of Nebraska launches regional economic development initiative

June 21, 2024, 5 p.m. ·

DED 6 Regions Press Conference
Nebraska Department of Economic Development director K.C. Belitz speaks about the DED's 6 Regions, One Nebraska initiative. (Photo by Brian Beach/Nebraska Public Media News)

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The "6 Regions, One Nebraska" economic development initiative launched in southeast Nebraska Friday morning.

Around 100 community leaders from across the 15-county southeast region met at Southeast Community College in Lincoln to come up with ideas for regional economic development.

The goal of the initiative is to create regional economic development projects in resident recruitment, youth engagement, entrepreneurship, technology and infrastructure in each region.

The regions are based on the six Nebraska community college districts, which were formed in the 1970s.

“We needed a map that would split the state,” Nebraska Department of Economic Development director K.C. Belitz said. “You can’t have two regions, that’s too big, you can’t have 34, that’s too many, so six is a nice number.”

Each region will have a full-time leader, called a regional navigator, who will work alongside volunteer co-chairs to carry out the projects.

In the southeast region, Zane Francescato will serve as the navigator, while Jonathan Jank of the Seward County Chamber and Marc LeBaron of Lincoln Industries will serve as co-chairs.

Map of economic development regions in Nebraska
Economic development regions in Nebraska. (Courtesy of Nebraska Department of Economic Development)

Nebraska Lieutenant Governor Joe Kelly said the regional structure will help local communities collaborate more efficiently.

“This regional approach makes perfect sense,” he said. “Neighbors competing with each other to advance, instead of neighbors always competing against each other. We can't do it alone, we need each other.”

The initiative is funded for the next three years through state funds from the American Rescue Plan Act and local matches.

Last month, the Mid-Plains region held its first regional economic development meeting.

Belitz said the group discussed the idea of finding a way for Mid-Plains Community College to offer bachelor’s degrees to allow young people in the region to receive four-year degrees.