Innovation partnership bill advances

Lawmakers advanced a bill from general file Jan. 26 meant to facilitate relationships between technology firms and research institutions in historically underserved areas of Nebraska.

Sen. Terrell McKinney
Sen. Terrell McKinney

LB450, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Terrell McKinney, would require the state Department of Economic Development to design an innovation hub, or “iHub,” designation for certain areas in Nebraska.

The bill defines an iHub as a partnership between private nonprofit corporations and a two- or four-year college or university to stimulate economic development. Among other tasks, the DED would provide technical assistance and guidance to entrepreneurs
and facilitate partnerships between the member organizations.

Innovation hubs could bridge technological gaps in Nebraska, spark economic growth, create jobs and revitalize economically depressed areas like North Omaha, McKinney said.

“Many businesses, specifically in North Omaha, have lacked real investment in economic sustainability and opportunity for small business and entrepreneurs since the late 60s,” McKinney said. “Boarded up buildings and foreclosed businesses do not draw individuals to communities.”

A Business and Labor Committee amendment, adopted 42-0, would specify the area within which an iHub could be designated as an economic redevelopment area, defined in state law as an area in which the average rate of unemployment is at least 150 percent of the state average, and the average poverty rate is 20 percent or more for the area’s federal census tract.

McKinney also offered an amendment, adopted on a 40-0 vote, to add enterprise zones as an area eligible as an iHub area. The change potentially would allow areas of the state that have experienced population decline also to qualify. Among other provisions, the amendment also would add inland port authorities and financial institutions to the list of allowable iHub partners.

As amended, the bill would require an iHub to contain at least three partners, develop a five-year plan and be current on all state and local taxes.

Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha supported the bill, saying it would enable communities to have a “one-stop shop” for business development.

“The issue in North Omaha with business development is no different than the issue in Ogallala. It’s no different than the issue in Norfolk. It’s how do we develop small businesses — and it’s not just lifestyle businesses of coffee shops and restaurants, it’s suppliers, what we consider main street businesses,” Wayne said.

Blair Sen. Ben Hansen also supported LB450. He said there were provisions in place to distribute iHubs throughout Nebraska, and that the bill would provide opportunities to educate new and potential business owners regarding business plans, contracts and hiring.

Senators advanced LB450 to select file on a 43-0 vote.

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