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Helping Start and Grow Small Businesses in Nebraska
By Jackie Ostrowicki
Have you had your hair cut lately? Taken your dog to the vet? Gotten your car repaired? Whether we’re conscious of it or not, we interact almost daily with small businesses.
Not only do small businesses increase our quality of life, they’re the backbone of the U.S. economy. They create two-thirds of net new jobs and drive innovation and competitiveness, accounting for 44% of U.S. economic activity. In Nebraska, small businesses represent 99% of all businesses and nearly 50% of all employees across the state. In 2019 alone, they created over 5,000 new jobs for Nebraskans.
Although you may think of small businesses as lifestyle or “Main Street” companies, they cover the gamut from agriculture to manufacturing, tech to startups. Any business with under 500 employees is considered a small business—so a one-person firm and a 300-person manufacturer are both small businesses. One thing they have in common: they need specialized resources to get off the ground and to grow.
Setting Small Businesses Up for Success
That’s where the Nebraska Business Development Center (NBDC) comes in. Run by Cathy Lang, an attorney with extensive background in economic development and a warm demeanor, the Center is housed at the University of Nebraska at Omaha but serves the entire state. “We have 10 locations across Nebraska—one in each of the major urban areas, as well as offices in communities like Chadron, Scottsbluff, McCook, and Wayne,” said Lang.
Whether a small business is looking to start or to grow, there are specific services it needs to set it up for success—operational things like financial projections and other business planning, loan packaging, accessing capital, marketing and technical development. No one person is an expert at all these, and small business owners can be overwhelmed with so many details.
Not only does NBDC provide these and a wealth of other services, they do so one-on-one—and at no charge. When they work with a small business, they’re doing personalized consulting for that specific business and their unique needs. The NBDC consultants providing the services are credentialed business advisers, with academic degrees and professional certifications.
Making Connections; Providing Training
Centers like NBDC are required by the federal government to be located at university campuses; partly for the academic acumen and rigor associated with institutions of higher education—and partly for the connection to faculty, students and innovation. The University of Nebraska supports small business not only through NBDC but through academic programs—training students how to be entrepreneurs and small business owners before they even reach the workforce.
Lang, who serves as the center’s director, is a perfect fit for the job. In past roles, she worked in policy and program development and implementation. Now, she focuses on helping economic development occur, one business at a time, in a more granular and personal way. She is also strategic. Asked what more NBDC could do, Lang pursued innovative expansions, bringing their program offerings from three to five.
"Even during COVID-19, people were still thinking through how to start or grow their business. It's a testament to the tenacity and grit Nebraskans have."
When COVID-19 hit small businesses in Nebraska, NBDC was able to support new needs that arose, such as helping clients navigate the federal Paycheck Protection Program process and work with lenders. The Center was also part of the Nebraska Business Response Survey, which launched in April of 2020 in partnership with the Center for Public Affairs Research at UNO. The survey information was used by the governor to help develop the COVID relief package the state provided to businesses.
“I’m excited about continuing to grow Nebraska and help businesses be successful,” Lang said. “I love working with people, and my greatest inspiration as a leader is supporting a person’s potential.”
Discover our Podcast Series
“Leading Nebraska” tells the stories of researchers, students and staff who are making a real impact. Join us in March as we follow Chris Kratochvil, UNMC’s Global Center for Health Security Distinguished Chair. He discusses the world-renowned infectious disease center and how UNMC is providing solutions needed to face the next pandemic.