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Joe Johnson

Regional Engagement Center

How a New UNK Center Connects the University with Organizations and Businesses Across Nebraska

By Jackie Ostrowicki

January 2021

For a firm to succeed, it must balance growing its client base with growing its employee base. Olsson, a 1,300-person civil engineering firm headquartered in Lincoln, has 30 offices in nine states—including locations in Grand Island and Kearney. As they take on more projects in central and western Nebraska, it’s important to have a location that allows them to communicate with clients across the Panhandle while appealing to existing and potential employees.

That’s why the 49,000-square-foot Regional Engagement and Alumni Center being built at the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s University Village development made perfect sense for Olsson’s new Kearney location. Expected to be complete in summer 2022, the $15.6 million project will strengthen Kearney’s role as a regional hub—and as a portal to greater Nebraska.

regional engagement center indoor rendering mockup
UNK’s Regional Engagement Center can host career fairs, campus and community events, lectures, meetings and countless other engagements.

“Olsson has been invested in the Regional Engagement Center since its inception,” said Joe Johnson, Olsson’s business consultant leader for Nebraska and a UNK graduate. “We do a lot of work in Kearney and are excited about the new space and culture. It provides an innovative, vibrant environment for our employees and helps us with recruiting and retention."

The project, a public/private partnership, will serve as a destination and gathering place for central and western Nebraska—attracting students and faculty to UNK, bringing new businesses to the city and benefiting employers across the state. Other firms, such as manufacturer Chief Industries, have already made the decision to lease office space in the Regional Engagement Center. And the center will also house UNK’s Alumni Association and Foundation offices.

Along with serving Kearney and greater Nebraska businesses, the Regional Engagement Center opens the door to expanded educational and experiential learning opportunities for UNK students. University Village, the public-private development south of UNK’s main campus where the Center will be located, will also be home to an upscale townhome and apartment project, Millennium Housing, that will ultimately include 230 units and attract students, young professionals and community members.

The $15.6 million project will strengthen Kearney’s role as a regional hub—and as a portal to greater Nebraska.

“UNK’s Regional Engagement Center—and the other developments that will be housed in University Village—create a remarkable community,” said Johnson. “It’s the only development of its kind between Lincoln and Denver. When you consider the mix of government and business leadership that will be located there, as well as the proximity to the University, it is truly an environment where people can collaborate, engage and learn.

This partnership shows how private industries and businesses can work with the university to invest in important community and business development opportunities. UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen said, “Projects like these are the future of public universities. Universities will prosper and grow, thoughtfully and intentionally, through similar private partnerships.”

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