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Approved: $400 Million to Fund Projects in North & South Omaha gains approval; now to Governor Pillen

Some estimate as much as $500 million will be invested in North and South Omaha as a result of the historic and unprecedented legislation and other related bills

Published:  Thursday, June 1, 2023

The bill to provide funding for North Omaha and South Omaha cleared a significant hurdle and won final approval from the Nebraska State Legislature today.  The legislation once referred to as the North Omaha and South Omaha Economic Recovery plan, LB1024 in 2022 and LB531 this year won approval today on a 37-8 vote.

“We got it across this finish line,” said Senator Terrell McKinney.  “I’m looking forward to the projects getting started and doing what we said we were going to do.”

Read the most up to date bill here: LB531.pdf (

It now expected to be signed into law by Governor Jim Pillen.

With support from the community and nearly 50 testifiers in 2022, State Senators Justin Wayne and McKinney introduced the legislation and worked with South Omaha senators Tony Vargas and Mike McDonnell to gain approval of $335 million in 2022.

“This is a huge win for the community,” said Willie Barney, CEO and Founder of the Empowerment Network.  “Senators Wayne and McKinney have done an amazing job leading and navigating this historic legislation through the Legislature.  The community also participated in the process at an unprecedented level.  Now, the goal is to make sure the community, small businesses, contractors, developers and organizations help lead the development efforts.”

Senators Wayne and McKinney reviewed plans developed by the community over the years and put together the North Omaha Recovery Plan.  South Omaha then developed a proposal and it was added to the original North Omaha legislation and the bill became the North and South Omaha Recovery Plan.  As the plan was making its way through the state senate last year, Sen. Wayne added funding elements to include high poverty census tracts from around the state.

Some projects were identified in the legislation to move forward immediately through an RFP process implemented by the Department of Economic Development.  Projects including internships, IHUB, the airport business park planning grant, tourism and others were approved for funding.

For the remaining $225 million, the state legislature instructed the Economic Recovery Committee to contract with an engineering firm to put together a master plan.   The North and South Omaha communities were then engaged in stakeholder meetings, planning sessions and submitted over 367 applications.

Olsson, the engineering firm which was selected to collect the submissions and develop the master plan, reviewed the proposals and made recommendations to approve 37 of the plans for funding.   Other projects were identified as high scoring and listed as supplemental plans that could be funded if more dollars were allocated by the State.  Find the Olsson report here:

After some concerns were voiced by the community, small group meetings and two large town halls were held to attempt to address additional high priorities that were not among the initial recommendations.

Groups and individuals representing small businesses, contractors, the Malcolm X Foundation, Charles Drew, arts and culture organizations, immigrants and refugees, and potential economic development projects along the corridors of Ames, Sorensen and 30th Street all made their case to be considered for funding.  The community also recommended an additional $200 million in funding and a desire to have an accountability committee.

State senators agreed to take the additional amendments to the Economic Recovery committee for consideration.  With that agreement, nearly 50 residents, leaders, small business owners, neighborhood representatives, organizational leaders and others traveled to Lincoln to support the legislation.  Others wrote letters, sent emails and made phone calls.

State Senator McKinney has said he shared the other suggested amendments with the committee but had difficulty gaining support with the limited time available and the filibustering that has taken place during the entire session.

Three amendments were introduced.  One for a museum tied to an individual listed in the hall of fame.  A second for federally qualified health centers.  And, a third for a cultural museum was introduced by Senator McDonnell.

Senator McKinney said the best way for the other groups to be considered is to resubmit their proposals to the Department of Economic Development once the bill is approved in the final round and signed by Governor Pillen.

“This gives everyone another opportunity,” said McKinney.


What happens next?

The process moving forward after the legislative vote and Governor’s signature is that DED will issue RFPs and accept proposals as early as July.  DED will then review and score the proposals.

State Senators are encouraging DED to use the recommendations and amendments identified in the Olsson report, but the current understanding is that DED will review and score everything again using the criteria outlined in the legislation with a heavy emphasis and focus on economic development, entrepreneurship, job creation, housing and tourism.

State senators are recommending that all proposals that were submitted to Olsson be considered eligible for funding and those recommended should receive priority.

Because of the filibustering that has occurred this session, State Senators have been combining bills into “mega bills” incorporating as many as 5-25 bills in one vote.

Even LB 531 passed with multiple amendments and bills included.  In addition, the current legislation has switched funding from ARPA to general funds to allow more flexibility and more time for projects to get completed.  The use of ARPA funds comes with more restrictions than general funds.  And, the ARPA funds must be used by 2026.

State Senators representing the Economic Recovery Plan and Governor Pillen agreed the switch to general funds was a good move.

The legislative update regarding LB531 can be found here:

The Economic Recovery program can be tracked here:

The funding allocated can be tracked at

Community Features

2024 Revive Omaha Black Business Guide

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Community Features

New cohorts prepare to launch…Leadership, Fund Development, Wealth Building & Career Advancement


Great News!  After announcing four cohorts late last year, the Empowerment Network decided to delay the launch of the initiatives as they ran into the holiday season, received formal notice of their award of $10 million through the North and South Omaha Recovery Plan and continued the national collaboration with their partner cities introduced at last year’s African-American Leadership Summit.

The Network is now prepared to move forward with the four capacity-building cohort opportunities and their national strategic partners and advisors will be in Omaha for the Rebuilding the Village Conference.

Keys to Fund Development to Make Your Vision a Reality & Intro to Cohort

Anna Barber, fundraising expert that has helped to raise hundreds of millions of dollars including for the Smithsonian’s National Black History Museum in Washington D.C., will lead a six-month cohort on Fund Development:  building a donor base to make your vision a reality.

Barber will share insights gained through her work with major universities, the Museum, Obama Foundation and other national clients.  Participants will develop a comprehensive step by step plan to build and maintain a strong, diversified donor base.  In this session, Barber will provide an overview of key elements to fundraising success and share an overview of the upcoming fund development cohort.


Collaborative, Transformation Leadership and Powerful Storytelling & Intro to Cohort

Suzan Hart, one of world’s top storytellers and presenters, will launch a Collaborative Leadership and Storytelling cohort:  Maximize Opportunities with the Power of Your Story.

Participants will learn more about the transformational power of collaboration and enhance their presentation skills by defining purpose, understanding their value, and releasing the power of their story.  In this session, Hart will share key concepts to help you develop a mindset to maximize your leadership opportunities and provide an overview of the new cohort.


Advancing Your Career with Key Principles from Redefine the Game & Intro to Cohort

Dr. Jefferey Robinson of BCT Partners will return to Omaha to help launch the 5th Cohort of the Redefine the Game Institute, an innovative career advancement and leadership development program. Over 150 have participated with most receiving promotions and increased compensation, expanded career opportunities or leadership positions within new organizations.

In this session, Dr. Robinson will guide you towards growing and making the most of your network and provide an overview of the next RTG cohort. You will also hear from RTG Alumni regarding their own path career paths and stepping into impactful leadership roles.


Understanding Your Wealth Building Code and Developing Your Plan & Intro to Cohort

Dr. Pamela Jolly a nationally recognized wealth-building strategist returns to launch the third cohort of the Legacy Wealth Initiative.  Graduates of Legacy Wealth have developed wealth plans, saved thousands of dollars, become homeowners, launched and purchased businesses, invested individually and collectively and made contributions to their community.  Dr. Jolly will review the key elements to develop and implement your own wealth building plan and provide an overview of the upcoming Legacy Wealth Cohort.

Register for the 17th Annual Rebuilding the Village Conference and come join us for the introduction of the new cohorts.  Learn More and Register here

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Community Features

Dream Big! Eric Thomas coming to Omaha June 7th

OMAHA, Neb. –  On June 7, the Empowerment Network will take over CHI Health Center Omaha & Hilton Omaha Downtown for the 17th Annual Rebuilding the Village Conference and Luncheon. This year’s event also features the highly anticipated Revive Omaha Black Business Expo, highlighting the importance of supporting and empowering black-owned businesses in the community. The conference kicks off at 8:00 am.

Big Dreams and Collective Visions!  The luncheon will feature an energizing session from keynote speaker from New York Times best-selling author, educator, motivational guru and international business phenomenon, Eric Thomas, Ph.D.

As an inspirational speaker, Thomas has made a successful career working with and coaching Fortune 500 companies, top athletes, students and audiences around the world. A visionary, Thomas helps others walk in their purpose. Through a thorough examination and application of these same principles, his conference attendees continue to maximize their successes both in the workplace and at home. As a husband, father and philanthropist, Thomas aims to improve the lives of others through self-empowerment, self-assessment and consistent execution.

The Rebuilding the Village Conference and Luncheon has long been recognized as a premier gathering for community leaders, activists, entrepreneurs and stakeholders to come together to address key issues facing underserved communities. With a focus on career advancement, leadership development, DEI, wealth building, entrepreneurship, community building and more, the conference aims to foster collaboration and drive positive change in Omaha and beyond.

“The Rebuild the Village Conference and Revive Omaha Black Business Expo continues to evolve,” said Willie Barney, CEO and founder of the Empowerment Network. “Through this year’s event, we are focusing on the best ways to build economic strength and equity, support business owners, encourage homeownership, and invest in economic development and revitalization. Our community wants to be a part of the development of our city. Our Conference and Black Business Expo will equip attendees with the tools needed to thrive.”

Dream Big video from Eric Thomas

Central to this year’s event is the Revive Omaha Black Business Expo, a dynamic showcase of black-owned businesses from across the region. Attendees will have the chance to network with entrepreneurs, learn about innovative products and services, and support the local economy.

Backed by the Obama Foundation’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, the Empowerment Network works to build a safer environment for all residents by increasing educational and career success and reducing violent crime. The My Brother’s Keeper Alliance leads a cross-sector national call-to-action focused on building safe and supportive communities for boys and young men of color where they feel valued and have clear pathways to opportunity.

In 2023, the Rebuild the Village Conference attracted more than 1,100 attendees. Of those attendees, nearly 40 percent were students. With the help of last year’s keynote speaker, businessman, NBA legend and philanthropist Erving “Magic” Johnson, Rebuild the Village was able to raise $90,000 during an unexpected auction at the end of Johnson’s speech. Last year’s event also drew in leaders from across the nation, including key cities like Atlanta, Ga., Chicago, Ill., Denver, Co., Kansas City,  Mo., New Orleans, La. and Tulsa, Okla.

In addition to the Black Business Expo, the conference will feature keynote speeches, panel discussions, workshops, and interactive sessions led by industry experts and community leaders. To learn more about the event, including ticket prices and sponsorship opportunities, please visit Registration closes Monday, June 3.


About the Empowerment Network

The Empowerment Network is a nonprofit organization committed to advancing economic, social and civic progress within Omaha’s African American community, North Omaha and the region. Through collaborative efforts and innovative initiatives, the Empowerment Network strives to create opportunities for empowerment and transformation in every zip code and neighborhood in the City of Omaha and other national communities.

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