Innovation partnerships authorized

Lawmakers passed a bill April 12 meant to facilitate relationships between technology firms and research, banking and nonprofit economic development corporations in historically underserved areas of Nebraska.

Sen. Terrell McKinney
Sen. Terrell McKinney

LB450, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Terrell McKinney, requires 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 at least three partners to stimulate economic development. Partners can include postsecondary educational institutions, financial institutions, nonprofit economic development organizations and inland port authorities, among others.

An iHub must be located within an economic redevelopment area — in which the average unemployment rate is at least 150 percent of the state average and the poverty rate is 20 percent or more for the area’s federal census tract — or an enterprise zone. An enterprise zone is an area where population has decreased by 10 percent or the average unemployment rate is at least 200 percent of the state average or the poverty rate exceeds 20 percent for the federal census tract.

Among other tasks, DED will provide technical assistance and guidance to entrepreneurs and facilitate partnerships between the member organizations. iHub applications must be submitted to DED by June 1, 2023.

Provisions of Lincoln Sen. Suzanne Geist’s LB1215 also are included. Those provisions include legislative intent to appropriate $5 million annually to a newly created small business assistance program. The program allows certain individuals who want to start a business in Nebraska to apply for a $25,000 grant from DED.

To qualify, an applicant cannot have earned more than $55,000 in the most recent calendar year, have a net worth of more than $200,000 or have an ownership interest in any other business.

The amendment also authorizes grants of up to $12,500 for small businesses in existence less than five years if gross revenue has grown by less than 25 percent in the past calendar year and the owner has a net worth of less than $200,000 and does not have an ownership interest in another business.

Senators passed LB450 on a 45-0 vote.

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