Running state government like a business has cut growth in the state budget and even cut hold times at a help center for food stamp recipients, Gov. Pete Ricketts told a business audience Thursday in Omaha.

He pitched Nebraska as "the best place in the world to live" but said it remains a challenge to keep college-educated young Nebraskans in the state.

To that end, he is trying to make Nebraska a more attractive place to do business through a combination of tax relief, infrastructure investment and reforming state government programs, including the requirements to receive unemployment insurance payments.

Ricketts spoke to the Association for Corporate Growth Nebraska chapter, a group of executives, attorneys, bankers, accountants and others involved in business expansion.

"I'm bringing that to state government, to run state government more like a business and make it work for the people of Nebraska," he said.

Current efforts include enlarging the Community Corrections Center in Lincoln and streamlining state software programs, "to do a better job of delivering services and control spending at the same time," he said. "What we have to do in state government is get out of the way, so you can create the jobs."

Taking questions from ACG members, Ricketts responded to a concern from Courtney Dunbar, industrial site consultant for Olsson Associates, who said the state should work to better align information about available industrial sites with the specific needs of target industries. The state has hired a consulting firm to determine target industries and compare its infrastructure and business environment to other states.

Ricketts said a good inventory of available business location sites is something that Nebraska needs to develop. While the state must make relocation incentives available, he said, Nebraska also has to make a case about why a business would be successful here.

"We don't want to win the business on (incentives)," he said. "We don't want a race to the bottom."

Dan Kinsella, a partner at Deloitte, asked what the business community can do to help retain young Nebraskans and whether Ricketts has a program to address the outflow of talent. Ricketts said he has asked Courtney Dentlinger, director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, to strategize how to recruit and retain more workers.

Ricketts encouraged businesses to partner with schools so students are aware of local job opportunities, not only in professional careers, but also in skilled labor. And he encouraged everyone to encourage young adults to find careers in Nebraska. "Don't tell your kids they've got to go someplace else to find a job," he said. "Tell your kids, tell your grandkids, tell your neighbor's kid" to stay here.

Ricketts also was asked to speculate on two great American unknowns: Who will be the Republican nominee for president, and what's the outlook for the Chicago Cubs this season?

The governor said he hasn't endorsed a candidate but is looking for someone who brings to mind one of his personal heroes: Ronald Reagan.

"He shared a vision of America that was uplifting," Ricketts said.

Will the Cubs be uplifting for their fans?

"We've got a great, young team," Ricketts said. "Our strategy is to get to the postseason." The Ricketts family owns the Cubs.

There, he said, anything's possible.

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