Funding sought for “once-in-a-generation” project

The state would provide matching funds to help secure a potential public-private hospital and training center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center under a proposal heard Feb. 6 by the Revenue Committee.

Sen. Mark Kolterman
Sen. Mark Kolterman

Under LB1084, introduced by Seward Sen. Mark Kolterman, certain political subdivisions, including the University of Nebraska, could apply to the state Department of Economic Development for $300 million in matching funds.

If an application is approved and the Legislature appropriates those funds, they could be used only for a project in which the applicant would invest at least $1 billion to carry out the requirements of a certain program done in partnership with the federal government.

Kolterman said the proposed matching funds would help Nebraska secure a potential project that would significantly expand UNMC, grow the state’s economy and strengthen existing partnerships with the federal government.

UNMC has demonstrated a successful public-private partnership with the Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, he said, and the potential project would have even larger economic effects.

Kolterman said the project, called NExT, would have an estimated economic impact of $7.6 billion over the next decade, creating nearly 33,000 temporary construction jobs and 8,700 permanent jobs. It would add $1.3 billion to the state’s economy annually after it becomes fully operational, he said.

“I personally believe this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us to catapult Nebraska into the national and international scene, boost our economy and further position us to be a world leader in infectious disease and all-hazards training and response,” Kolterman said.

Jeffrey Gold, chancellor of UNMC, testified in support of LB1084 on behalf of the University of Nebraska.

Gold said the project would include a hospital with approximately 1,200 beds, some of which could be used during times of national emergency such as biological, chemical, radiological or nuclear attacks, as well as infectious disease outbreaks. A proposed training center would increase the facility’s capacity to train health care professionals and students from around the world, he said.

Gold said UNMC meets many of the federal government’s site selection criteria: The center has become known for its expertise in biocontainment and the treatment of highly infectious diseases after the Ebola virus outbreak of 2014, it trains National Disaster Medical System personnel and it is near a suitable U.S. Air Force facility at Offutt Air Force Base.

He said it is critical to convince the federal government and the nonprofit sector that the state is a “capable partner” in the project.

“It is truly a historic opportunity before us,” Gold said. “Let us seize it.”

Leslie Andersen testified in support of the bill on behalf of the Greater Omaha Chamber and the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce. She said the project would have “profound” economic effects for Omaha and the state.

“Perhaps no other project over the past decade has presented an opportunity for economic growth and high-wage, high-demand, highly skilled jobs than the NExT project,” she said.

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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