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Published:  January 11, 2022

For decades, North Omaha has been identified as an area in need of large scale capital investments to reverse the lingering and long-term effects of discrimination, redlining and neglect.  Over the years, a series of major plans and projects have been introduced but most have suffered from limited funding for implementation.

During the last fifteen years through collaboration and targeted investments, some measurable incremental progress was made. Many trends including unemployment, gun violence and graduation rates were finally beginning to move in the right direction, as documented by UNO and the US Census data.  Even with the improvements, North Omaha had unemployment and poverty rates 3 to 5x’s higher than the rest of the state.  This has been the case for decades.

Then, COVID-19 hit the community and the poverty, violence and unemployment rates once again spiked, especially in North Omaha.  The area also has experienced one of the highest rates of COVID-19 as the community suffers from underlying conditions that exacerbate the impact of the virus.

Senators Justin Wayne and Terrell McKinney are looking to help finally close the economic and health gaps faced by North Omaha residents.  Their plan is to accelerate the pace of change by dramatically increasing investments utilizing funds being made available through the state of Nebraska by the federal government, primarily the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

“We aren’t looking to create new programs, but focus resources on strong, evidence-based initiatives with proven records,” said Wayne.  “These investments will help prepare North Omaha residents to fill open jobs in the city and state and build a strong, sustainable economy.”

“We believe this is a model that can be utilized by other communities across the state to address disproportionately impacted neighborhoods,” added Wayne.  “We look forward to working with other senators across the state to address issues magnified by COVID-19.  This is how the funds were intended to be used.”

“Our emphasis is on wealth building through entrepreneurship and employment with higher wages right here in North Omaha,” added McKinney.  “It’s a pro business strategy.”

The North Omaha Recovery Plan prioritizes business growth, corridor development, higher wage jobs in North Omaha, job training for youth and adults, the availability of housing and investments in the arts, entertainment and tourism industries to create economic engines in the community.

The senators combed through past and current plans for North Omaha to identify the projects with the greatest potential for return on investment.  They also reviewed how other cities and states were using the funds to meet the goals of ARPA.

Both called the federal funds “a once in a lifetime” opportunity for the residents of North Omaha which will benefit the city, region and state.

One of the plans that provided an important foundation for the North Omaha Recovery Plan was the Transformation 2025 plan developed by the Empowerment Network including the input of 8,000 youth and adults.   Many, but not all of the elements from the Transformation Plan were incorporated in the proposal from Wayne and McKinney.  The senators also hosted public forums to gather important suggestions and recommendations from the community firsthand.

“We are incredibly appreciative that Senators Wayne and McKinney listened to what we had to say through the research, data and strategies we collected from thousands of community members and hundreds of leaders in every sector,” said Willie Barney, CEO and Founder of the Empowerment Network and co-publisher of Revive Omaha Magazine.

“What they are doing is historic.  This is something that has been talked about for six decades going all the way back to the Sorensen administration,” added Barney.

“Sorensen said in 1967, it would take a large scale infusion of capital to fully address the employment, education and housing needs in North Omaha.  He also added that it would require a sustained and substantial public investment and a broad coalition of leaders from every sector,” said Barney.   “We have made some progress through collaboration, but this would be the largest public investment to help close these gaps.”

Wayne, McKinney, Barney and other leaders feel that this is the moment to make it a reality.

The next steps are to have the plan reviewed for any final recommendations from the community.  Then, Wayne and McKinney will introduce bills to the Nebraska State Legislature.

The use of the funds allocated through the Biden administration and US Congress will be very competitive.  Communities and special interest groups from across the state have already made large proposals.

North Omaha should have two major advantages when it comes to the allocation of the federal funds.

“One of the key aspects for the funds is that the Biden administration has specifically identified highly qualified census tracts where these dollars should be prioritized,” said Wayne. “North Omaha has 25 of 45 census tracts identified which means a significant portion should come to these neighborhoods most impacted by COVID and long-term disproportionately disadvantaged communities.”

“Secondly, because these are federal funds, dollars can be targeted to benefit specific races and ethnicities,” said Wayne.  “That means projects and programs can be directly allocated to black and brown communities that have been most severely impacted by COVID and suffer the greatest economically.”

In addition, conversations will continue with the city, county and state to align funds to create the best opportunity for long-term success.

Councilwoman Juanita Johnson, Commissioner Chris Rodgers and other elected officials have hosted information gathering sessions in addition to the forums held by Wayne and McKinney.

Mayor Jean Stothert and her administration have identified six areas of focus after surveying the community:  1.  Revenue replacement; 2. Violence Prevention; 3. Workforce; 4. Public Spaces; 5. Housing; and, 6. Tourism.

Douglas County has prioritized revenue replacement, COVID-19 infrastructure for the Health Department and County Jail, mental health and recommendations identified by each commissioner.

More meetings will be held to finalize a unified plan and approach for North Omaha.

“Securing the funding needed for North Omaha will require the participation of the whole community,” said McKinney.

“Everyone will need to do their part.”

Learn more about the plan.

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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

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$475 million North Omaha Recovery Plan advances to the next step

Published:  Friday, March 25, 2022

After extensive and spirited debate, Nebraska state senators advanced the North Omaha Recovery Act to the next phase on Tuesday, March 22, 2022.

With a 28-0 vote and 19 non-votes, the $475 million package was moved to select file and will now go through some adjustments based on the discussions heard on the floor of the Nebraska Unicameral.  It will need to advance through two more rounds of debate in order to make it to Governor Pete Rickett’s desk.

The plan calls for investments in entrepreneurship, employment, job creation, workforce training, housing, and tourism.   It is a business centric approach to help address the disproportionate impact of  COVID-19 and the underlying economic conditions that have hindered North Omaha for decades.

Senators Justin Wayne and Terrell McKinney presented a compelling case for the much needed funds to help accelerate improvements and developments in North and South Omaha and other communities with qualified census tracts around the state.

“North Omaha has been neglected for decades,” said Wayne.  “This is exactly what the ARPA funds were designed for.  But, it doesn’t matter to me where the funds come from.  ARPA.  Cash reserve.  General funds.  I am open.”

Some senators questioned the level of investment and wanted to know more about the process for implementation.

McKinney had an answer.  “One area we can find funds is the $175 million currently budgeted for a prison,” he said.  “Let’s invest in people, not prisons.  That is the responsible and conservative thing to do.”

Other senators voiced support, but said they would want more details about the amount and the sources of the funds before they vote on the next round.

Wayne responded.  “It’s interesting that some senators had absolutely no questions with how we allocated $4 billion dollars with the overall state budget, but now want to question every detail when it comes to North Omaha.”

The bill was initially introduced by Wayne and McKinney based on their review of other plans for North Omaha.  Over fifty testifiers traveled to Lincoln to speak with the Urban Affairs and Appropriations Committees during public hearings.

Later, Senator Tony Vargas of South Omaha and a group of business leaders developed a separate $50 million proposal for South Omaha. Thirty additional speakers attended the hearing for the South Omaha bill.

Eventually, the senators from North and South Omaha decided to join forces and created the East Omaha Recovery Plan.  That plan was voted out of the Urban Affairs Committee on a 6-1 vote leading to this first round discussion with the full senate.

It will come back to the floor for the next round after some additional discussions and negotiations between the senators.

“We will come back with more details and we are willing to talk to anyone about the best way to move things forward,” said Wayne.

“To make it plain, this is our attempt to put a boot factory in North Omaha to provide our community with the proverbial boots that they have yet to receive in our lifetime in order to give them the tools and empower them to pull themselves up,” added McKinney.

The debate on the floor of the Nebraska Legislature the entire week has primarily focused on the state budget, use of the federal ARPA funds, the needs of North Omaha, whether to build a new prison or invest in reforms and other important issues facing the state.  Negotiations between senators are ongoing to finalize the amount that will be allocated to North and South Omaha and for projects across the state.

Learn more about the plan.

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$450 million bill advances for North Omaha Recovery Act

Published:  Friday, February 18, 2022

A 6-1 legislative committee vote for the North Omaha Recovery Act bill on Thursday, will now go to the legislative floor for full debate.

The North Omaha Recovery Act is comprised of two bills, one of which has been advanced. For North Omaha, this could mean closing pre-pandemic economic and health gaps that were magnified when COVID-19 struck its community.

In January, Senators Justin Wayne and Terrell Mckinney first introduced Legislative Bill 1024 at the State Capitol in Lincoln, Nebraska.  A public hearing was held on February 1st with nearly 40 supporters speaking in favor and 0 opponents.

The bill recommends using $450 million of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) relief funds, directly to help rejuvenate North and South Omaha communities.

The funds will be used for initiatives including housing, job preparation, business development, and public health, resulting in a more vibrant and resilient North Omaha. This would be the largest public investment to help recover North and South Omaha from the social and economic impacts of the pandemic.

An advisory committee will be utilized to assist and review the fund requests for LB 1024. The bill is competing amongst other proposals to spend Nebraska’s $1.04 billion allocation from ARPA.

After moving to the floor, the bill will need 25 supporting votes from senators and Governor Pete Ricketts’ signature of approval to sign it into law.

There are no follow up hearing dates set at this time.


Media coverage about the historic Urban Affairs Committee hearing for the North Omaha Recovery Plan:


Nebraska Examiner:

Channel 3:

Omaha World-Herald:

Learn more about the plan.

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