J.L. Schmidt

Capitol View

Nebraska Press Association

Nebraska's future; Forged or forced?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Nebraska is one of those mostly square states out west that most people couldn't find on an unmarked map ... and we like it that way.

I've said that before to colleagues from the densely populated and pseudo sophisticated East and from the "we're the only ones here" South. I am Nebraska- born and reared and have spent my entire life in the state, save for a 7-year stint in Illinois. I love this place, but I am also realistic about Nebraska's future.

So, it was with a great deal of enthusiasm that I watched a project promoted by the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce evolve. "Forging Nebraska's Future for the NExt Generation" was kicked off with a great deal of enthusiasm. Former Nebraska Department of Economic Development Director Richard Baier was hand-picked to be the head cheerleader.

Great idea. Catchy name. Internet accessibility. Attractive to the NExt Generation of Nebraskans.

Now it's over. The polls are closed. No more comments being accepted. There have been 549 ideas submitted in nine categories. Baier is pumped that there were more than 5,800 active users of the site. "There was a lot of dialogue on the site, and suggestions," he said.

I know. I watched it on a weekly basis and duly noted how often the ideas and the dialogue was generated by the Administrator of the site. That's a great way to fan the flames, fuel the fire, keep the idea hot. But is that "forging" or "forcing" the path? Is that honestly seeking grassroots ideas or just a way of legitimizing an already established agenda? Growing the state and its workforce, modernizing government and ensuring a competitive tax climate and commercial environment that lets businesses be successful. Those were stated goals of the project.

Baier said he and the rest of the group rating the suggestions to prepare "The 100 Great NExt Generation Ideas" by Feb. 7 are trying to find some really strong, hands-on solutions. One wonders how the suggestion to create a Silver Dollar City-like theme park near Chadron, in Northwest Nebraska, will fare in that assessment.

Likewise, the Central Nebraska suggestion to move the private "Chevyland Museum" from near Elm Creek to the Archway at Interstate 80 in Kearney and the suggested State Park on unused land of the University of Nebraska's Innovation Campus (the former Nebraska State Fairgrounds) in Lincoln, may have some trouble measuring up.

But they are ideas from Nebraskans about Nebraska. They were among the 64 ideas in the "Quality of Life" category of the survey and are worthy of discussion, no matter how you feel about them. Let's hope that the dialogue will continue publicly and not just in some closed-door session at the state chamber.

I was particularly taken by one category, "Selling Nebraskans on Nebraska." Given a brutal summer of drought and an already colder-than-usual winter, perhaps this is a high priority discussion that needs immediate attention.

Why are we here and why do we relish our anonymity?

This could be a healthy exercise in this New Year.

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