Transformation: 2025 Initiative

by Willie Barney

Yes, Omaha is on the move.
It’s time to ACCELERATE

The first phase of the Transformation 2025 Initiative has officially launched. Building on seven years of collaborative efforts, the transformation initiative challenges leaders and residents to achieve visionary goals and objectives. The rest of 2014 and 2015 will provide necessary time to finalize proposals based on current work, further alignment of large and small efforts, piloting a few of the newer initiatives and completing the identification of funding sources and raising of needed investments. The plan will go into full effect between 2016 and 2025.

Already ranked in the top five and top 10 in key categories, a collective vision and mission of transforming Omaha into the number one city in the nation for employment, entrepreneurship, education, housing and quality of life has been set! Omaha will be the first city in the country to close long-standing gaps which have been traditionally and typically based on race and geographic segregation. While there is much work ahead, key trends are finally moving in the right direction. The nation is taking notice. Over 20 cities have expressed an interest in replicating work that is occurring in Omaha.

Our Vision: To Unite and Transform Omaha into a GREAT city—thriving and prosperous, in every zip code and neighborhood. One. Great. Omaha!

The Empowerment Network in collaboration with residents, neighborhood associations, city, county, state and federal elected officials, faith leaders, community-based organizations, social agencies, governmental institutions, health providers, law enforcement, businesses and others have launched an initiative referred to as Transformation 2025. The initiative is a 10 year strategy which builds on the current trends and includes annual benchmarks to accomplish these objectives: 1) make Omaha number one in the nation for employment, entrepreneurship, education, housing and quality of life; and 2) close long standing gaps that have typically been based on race and geographic segregation.

The partners realize these objectives, and the goals will only be reached through collaboration, alignment and strategic reallocation of investments. The measurable goals:

• 5,000 unemployed individuals connected to sustainable living wage jobs and careers
• 250 new or expanded businesses
• 90% graduate prepared for college and career
• 5,000 new or improved housing units in North and South Omaha
• 90% safer and healthier community
• 2,500 families lifted out of poverty
• 250,000 tourists and visitors attracted to North and South Omaha to enjoy the arts, culture, business and entertainment opportunities.

Where will we generate the funds and investments to accomplish these goals? A conservative estimate shows that over $2 billion is being spent annually on prisons, jails, police, the justice system and other social costs on the back end of the equation. If 10% of those expenses could be redirected and reinvested on the front-end in prevention and intervention, every strategy outlined in the Transformation 2025 Initiative could be fully covered and paid for over the next 10 years. As a result, the long-term savings generated for tax payers would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars within 10 years and multi-billions of dollars over the next 50 years.

In addition to the savings generated, the community and city would benefit even more by increased economic vitality through increased graduation rates, better educated and prepared graduates, more tax-paying citizens, a higher performing workforce and accelerated market growth. With more individuals and families making living wages, the economy will experience even greater growth.

At the heart of the movement are some core principles:
1) Bi-partisan and/or Non-partisan Support. Republicans, Democrats and independents are involved in the development and implementation of this plan. Far too often, our community and nation are pushed to extremes. We focus more on what separates us then what we have in common. The transformation is not about a hand-out, but a hand-up. It uniquely combines personal responsibility and leadership accountability.

There are elements of each person doing their part, while also realizing there are certain policies that reinforce negative behaviors and systems that create unnecessary barriers to success. No one will be totally satisfied with everything in the transformation plan, but will find recommendations and strategies from all sides incorporated into the plan.

2) Focus on return on investment and reducing tax payer expenses. The transformation initiative incorporates proven strategies that generate both a social and economic return on investment. As these strategies are implemented, the tax burden will be reduced on individual citizens as more residents have sustainable living wages and begin to pay taxes themselves.

The strategic investments on the front end in prevention and intervention will reduce the spending currently being spent on prison, jails, justice, enforcement and social programs. The more people we have working, the stronger our economy will be. The systematic and evolutionary transition to less expensive prevention and intervention programs will dramatically reduce social costs saving tax payers money.

3) Personal Responsibility and Mobilization. This has been a long standing component of the Empowerment Network. Before asking what others can do for us, we have always started with ourselves first. The expectations in this area will be lifted even higher.

We will push for even more commitment to reduce teen pregnancy, increase marriage rates, more involvement in our children’s education, join neighborhood associations, become mentors, volunteering, and become informed and engaged voters. The commitments start with signing the Empowerment Covenant, Pledge for Peace, and extend well beyond paper to specific actions that each individual, family and organization will take to address issues before they become issues.

4) Leadership Engagement and Accountability. The city of Omaha, Douglas County and state of Nebraska cannot rest on their high rankings in the areas of employment, education and quality of life. While the city and state can boast of low unemployment rates, high academic performance and graduation rates and some of the highest quality health care in the nation, the job is not complete until all residents are able to take advantage of these great results. The city can no longer tolerate unemployment rates of 25%, graduation rates of 75%, home ownership rates of 35% and poverty rates of 40% and higher for some of its neighborhoods.

The only way we can become a great city in every zip code across all races and neighborhoods is for the active engagement of elected officials and leaders from every sector. We must hold each other accountable to addressing policies, strategies and investments from top to bottom.

5) Comprehensive collaboration, alignment and strategic reinvestment. The transformation initiative recognizes that it’s impossible for one business, church, organization, institution or governmental body to accomplish the visionary goals and objectives listed above in isolation. However, based on the outcomes of collaborative efforts of current initiatives, we can now see what’s possible.

Graduation rates are increasing. Reading, math and science scores are improving. Record numbers of students are going to college. Higher numbers of youth are engaged in summer jobs and internships. Gun violence rates are finally decreasing, with occasional spikes. Hundreds of housing units have been developed in targeted areas. With more collaboration, alignment and strategic reinvestment and reallocating of funds, we can accelerate the pace of transformation and reach our goals by 2025. It will take each of us doing our part and working in more collaborative ways. There’s no question, this can be accomplished primarily by systematically realigning and reallocation of existing funds.

For more information, please visit Empower Omaha online at and select “Transformation 2025”

The Transformation 2025 initiative builds on the collective work and collaborative outcomes from the past seven years and incorporates the input and recommendations of over 3,000 adults and 1,000+ youth and young adults. The strategies continue to evolve and the community will have more time over the next six months to get involved in further developing the plans, participating in the implementation and working together to evaluate the progress and make needed adjustments.