In speaking with long-time North Omaha residents, they often refer to the jobs and businesses which were once abundant in North Omaha. The area was a magnet for workers in the 40’s, 50’s and early 60’s. It was also a “bedroom” community for the manufacturing businesses in downtown and South Omaha. Over the past forty years, most of the job growth in the city has occurred in West Omaha, regional cities and exurban communities leaving North Omaha behind.
In order for North Omaha to be a fully thriving and prosperous community, more jobs and businesses are desperately needed. There are efforts underway by various groups and entities to address employment and entrepreneurship. Significant announcements will be made late summer and early fall of 2015 which will provide a positive boost. While these developments are promising and provide hope for the future, the focus now is on connecting North Omaha to existing job opportunities throughout the city.
The Lozier Corporation is one of the largest employers in North Omaha and has been consistently committed to the community for decades. In addition to providing employment opportunities, Lozier through their foundation, makes financial contributions to support important initiatives in North Omaha. Creighton University, Immanuel Hospital, and Omaha Public Schools are also major employers located in or near North Omaha. The North Omaha Business Park near 24th and Hamilton was created to help bring jobs into the community.
For years, there has been a loud cry for more job training opportunities to prepare and link North Omaha residents to current and emerging jobs and careers. Finally, more job training is becoming available.
The Urban League offers a range of training classes including a recently launched 3-week Career Boot Camp where they have partnered with private companies like First National Bank, UPS, OPPD, Gallup and First Data. Participants are paid a stipend as they attend the sessions and the Urban League reports a 90% placement rate for those who complete the Boot Camp. The League also offers employment services to assure job seekers are prepared.
Heartland Workforce Solutions (HWS), which was created to centralize workforce development for the region, is now located at 56th and Ames. The HWS team reports over 1,500 people use the services at the Center on a monthly basis.
HWS subcontracts with Goodwill to manage the workforce development programs. Goodwill offers an array of programs, including: ReStart – focused on ex-offenders working to reenter the workforce; Partnership – for youth and young adults; On-the-Job Training – hands-on work opportunities which potentially lead to long-term employment with specific businesses; Youth Build – preparing participants for jobs in the construction industry; and, Connect – which links job seekers to employment in the customer services and telecommunications industry.
One of the most exciting and promising developments is the recent announcement by Metropolitan Community College of a $90 million expansion at their Fort Omaha Campus. Three new buildings are under construction which will house an academic skills center, center for advanced and emerging technology and the construction education center. In addition to their extensive list of classes, MCC’s investment will provide tremendous opportunities. The campus is already home to a world class culinary program based in the Swanson Culinary Institute.
Another positive development is the Kumani Center on North 30th Street, created by Black Men United president Willie Hamilton with support from Dell Gines. The Center will focus on preparing participants for work in the trades and vocational fields while also offering entrepreneurs another place for incubation and training. The Kumani Center recently received certification from the state of Nebraska and will start classes in the fall of 2015.
When it comes to youth, career exploration and job training opportunities have been improving since the Empowerment Network launched the Step-Up Omaha! initiative in 2008. Launched by the North Omaha community, Step-Up Omaha! has evolved into the largest summer employment program in the state. With the support of the City of Omaha, state of Nebraska, United Way, businesses, foundations and non-profits, Step-Up is in the process of becoming a year round initiative. Initially launched by the Network and North Omaha residents, Step-Up expanded to South Omaha in 2012 and is now a city-wide initiative. Over 100 worksites have participated and over 20 community partners help make the program a success.
Summer Works, launched by the Kiewit Foundation and managed by UNO, is another strong program for youth, hiring 150 workers each summer. In addition to the work in city parks, Summer Works provides opportunities for the students to visit educational and cultural sites in the city and features site visits throughout the summer. The City of Omaha also hires large numbers of youth each year for parks related opportunities. Goodwill hires 40 youth during summer months as a part of its Youth Partnership program.
The Hope Center’s Employment and Learning Academy was created and launched in 2013. The Hope Center for Kids has been a partner with Step-Up Omaha! since its inception, and many of the youth that start in the summer enter the Employment Academy, which is a year round program preparing students for the workplace.
The growth of these job training opportunities and developments are generating renewed interest and a sense of enthusiasm for the future employment prospects for North Omaha residents. While work continues and must be intensified on recruiting sustainable, higher paying jobs to the community, these job training programs play a vital role in preparing the workforce of the future.