Rod Moseman realized Omaha had something special when it failed.
BMW, the German auto company, chose South Carolina in 1992 for its new U.S. auto plant, leaving Omaha’s business recruiters — a team of volunteers and professionals that eventually totaled nearly 500 people — disappointed.
But finishing No. 2 in a three-year contest for a world-class manufacturing facility proved to Moseman that Omaha could compete for big businesses.
And he has turned his 35-year economic development career in Omaha into a quest to make the region’s business atmosphere as competitive as any in the world, in the process leaving his professional fingerprints on tens of thousands of new jobs and billions in investment.
Moseman said Friday he would retire at the end of the year as senior vice president with the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, although he will help with the transition to a successor, is in good health and is forming an economic development consulting company of his own.
“This business is in my blood,” said Moseman, 64, whose first job after earning an electrical engineering degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln was with the industrial division of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.
Business recruiting often requires secrecy so that word about pending projects won’t leak to competing businesses or cities. During BMW’s search for a U.S. plant location, code-named Project Pretoria by the German auto company, the Omaha group wasn’t supposed to know the client’s identity.
But toward the end of the campaign, a video presentation about Omaha’s advantages ended with the word “Omaha,” with the “O” as a BMW logo — an inside joke that the Germans appreciated.
On that campaign, Moseman said, “The community came together. It was just unbelievable. None of us liked their decision, but we made it all the way to the very, very end. It really demonstrated to a lot of folks that we could compete on a global basis.
“That, quite candidly, was one of the underlying efforts that caused us to put together the first campaign that we called Target Omaha.”
Businesses and government agencies have contributed cash to fund the regional economic development effort through Target Omaha and its successors over the past 20 years. The chamber now is working to raise $23 million from about 300 such “investors” for a new five-year campaign called Prosper Omaha.
Moseman became the architect of the area’s drive to keep and add businesses through a regional partnership coordinated by the chamber. That’s an unusual structure in the economic development field, but one that he said has brought efficiency and results.
Earlier this year, Fremont’s economic development group joined the partnership, which also includes groups in Sarpy, Washington and Cass Counties and Omaha and works closely with state government.
“It’s been strong and effective,” he said. “Having a truly regional effort is so much appreciated by our clients. What sets us apart is that we all operate as though there were no city limits or county lines. It’s full service. We can point to project after project where everybody was at the table.”
David Brown, president and CEO of the chamber, said the area’s Economic Development Partnership is Moseman’s vision. Since 2004 the partnership has shepherded 426 projects representing nearly $4.3 billion in investment and 23,830 jobs.
Moseman also worked behind the scenes to strengthen the state’s tax incentives for business growth and has brought corporate real estate and business site selection professionals to the city for meetings and tours.
Jim Krieger, vice chairman and CFO of Gallup, said Moseman heads a team that has supported Omaha’s riverfront development, “always cheerleading the model public-private partnership that he and the chamber are nationally known for.”
The Gallup riverfront campus, which opened in 2003, was a milestone for downtown Omaha, bringing the headquarters of a globally known company downtown at a time when it was considering moving out of the state altogether.
Moseman’s involvement has ranged from big projects — keeping ConAgra Foods in Omaha and attracting German agricultural equipment maker CLAAS to Sarpy County — to the smallest ribbon cuttings for small businesses’ new offices.
Moseman said he expects the Omaha area’s population will reach 1 million before long. “I really feel that’s going to get us on more radar screens, which will give us more opportunity.”