Today’s polarized political climate can sometimes pit the job-growing prowess of the private sector against the values of public investment. Truth is, the two can go hand-in-glove with impressive results.
Recent reporting by World-Herald staff writer Henry Cordes shared good examples of that happening in the Midlands.
Look at that list of the five largest metro-area employers: the University of Nebraska Medical Center, with its private hospital partner; Offutt Air Force Base, with its private security and defense contractors; Alegent Creighton Health, with its newly acquired and growing campuses; Omaha Public Schools, with its role in educating the private economy’s next stewards; and Methodist Health System, with facilities from western Iowa to west Omaha.
Two of the five are private entities: Alegent Creighton and Methodist. Two are public: Offutt and OPS. And one blends public and private, that hub of research and care we all call the “med center.”
Together, the five employ more than 43,000 people in our city and nearby communities. Those are just the direct jobs, a total that doesn’t include the thousands more private and public jobs that sprout to serve the needs of such “job juggernauts.”
Those top employers might not have the global work forces and well-known names of such other local staples as ConAgra, Union Pacific or Gallup, but their contributions to the quality of life in our communities are impressive. They are engines of economic growth and long-term stability.
Nearly every neighborhood in the metro area is home to someone who works at or because of the big five.
Offutt adds $1.3 billion in economic juice to the local economy and more than 4,500 ancillary jobs. The med center adds $3.2 billion and 8,400 ancillary jobs.
The med center’s impact helped spark developments like Midtown Crossing and Aksarben Village. Its proposed cancer center could ignite new development of a similar scale along Saddle Creek Road.
Med center employees have helped buoy neighborhoods like Morton Meadows, Dundee, Benson and Aksarben — and helped drive new investment in those areas.
Want proof of bang for the buck?
University of Nebraska Medical Center leaders in the early 2000s decided that UNMC needed more research space. Private donors provided the bulk of the $70-plus million needed for each of two research towers. Of the $77 million spent on the first tower, the public contributed roughly $2.5 million. The second tower enjoyed a similar level of private support, though it was aided by tobacco settlement funds.
The UNMC research budget before the first tower opened was $56 million. The most recent research budget, with both Durham Research Towers, was $89 million. As a general rule, each million in new federal research dollars translates into about 36 local jobs, so for a relatively modest public investment, about 1,200 more people here have family-sustaining jobs.
Think what a $370 million cancer center could do.
A local real estate official told Cordes that nearly every neighborhood in our community has been touched by med center employees. The same could be said of Offutt, Alegent Creighton, OPS and Methodist.
Still, none of the big five would be as potent without fruitful partnerships between the Omaha area’s involved business community and its responsive public servants in making strategic decisions about spending taxpayer dollars.
Our community, like all, has its differences about how much to spend and what to spend it on, but Omaha is rare in its ability to see beyond those differences and embrace the importance of specific, targeted investments in a future that is better, healthier, safer and more prosperous than the past.