Published: Tuesday, May 23, 2023
The bill to provide funding for North Omaha and South Omaha continues to make its way through the Nebraska State Legislature. The legislation once referred to as the North Omaha and South Omaha Recovery plan, LB1024 in 2022, LB531 this year and now amendment AM 1880 received 2nd round approval on Thursday, May 18 with a 37-3 vote. AM1880 was submitted by Senator McKinney and incorporates more funding and additional projects.
Read the most up to date bill here: https://nebraskalegislature.gov/FloorDocs/108/PDF/Final/LB531.pdf
The third and final vote should occur sometime this week and is 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 Terrell McKinney introduced the legislation and worked with South Omaha senators Tony Vargas and Mike McDonnell to gain approval of $335 million in 2022.
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, business park planning grant, tourism and others were approved for funding. The process to approve these funds has been slow, but dollars are starting to reach the community.
The Economic Recovery program can be tracked here: https://opportunity.nebraska.gov/programs/recovery/
The funding allocated can be tracked at https://opportunity.nebraska.gov/programs/recovery/#dashboard
For the remaining funds, $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 then submitted over 300 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 35 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: https://www.nebraskalegislature.gov/pdf/reports/committee/select_special/econrec/LB1024_2023.pdf
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 in a district 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.
What happens next?
The process moving forward after legislative approval 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.
Because of the filibustering that has occurred this session, State Senators have been combining bills into “mega bills” incorporating as many as 10-25 bills in one vote.
Even LB 531, now has 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: http://update.legislature.ne.gov/?p=34381
We Choose to Build Together…300 leaders convene for Summit & Business Expo
The Empowerment Network’s African-American Leadership Summit and Revive Black Business Expo held at the Hilton Omaha on November 6th were both highly successful. Over 300 local and national leaders from every sector convened for a day of inspiration, development, networking and capacity-building. The theme of the event was “We Choose to Build Together.”
“We normally have a Leadership Conference in the fall but decided to switch things up this year because of so many major things happening in the community,” said Willie Barney, CEO & founder of the Empowerment Network.
“Our goals were to build on our collective work, encourage the tangible support of Black-owned businesses, introduce our national partner cities and launch the next round of capacity-building cohorts,” said Barney. “We choose to do business together. Build community together. Intentionally.”
Thirty small businesses and organizations were visible at display tables and most reported doing great business during the Summit generating thousands of dollars in sales collectively. A new tool was utilized through a Summit app to track sales during the day.
“I did very, very well,” said one of the small business vendors. “It was an exceptional day for my business.”
“The attendees at the Leadership events always do a great job supporting the small businesses,” said Yolanda Barney of Revive Omaha and manager of the Revive Black Business Expo. “Many of them typically sell out of merchandise. We need to keep this going year-round.”
The Summit also featured a panel of small businesses discussing the impact of intentional support from the Empowerment Network and other organizations. Gladys Harrison, owner of Big Mama’s Kitchen and Catering; Jason Fischer, CEO of Surreal Media Lab; Lewade Milliner, national musician and artist based in North Omaha; and, Don McPherson, owner of Styles of Evolution, all shared specific examples of how the Network and its partners have supported their businesses.
All of the small business owners also highlighted their vision for the future and the number of jobs they could create in the community with additional support.
“Imagine what we could do if all of the churches, organizations, neighborhoods and corporations supported these businesses in the same way,” said McPherson.
In addition to the small businesses and panels of local and national speakers, the Empowerment Network introduced representatives from Kansas City, Missouri; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Lansing, Michigan; and Columbus, Georgia. These are cities in the process of starting Empowerment Network and 360 initiatives in their communities. New Orleans, Louisiana and Davenport, IA/Quad-Cities are also part of the national partnerships.
Klassie Alcine, Executive Director of KC Common Good (KC 360 in Kansas City)
City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper, Tulsa, OK
“I really want to thank the Network team for the incredible amount of work they put into pulling this off in less than four weeks,” said Barney. “And, thank you to the sponsors, speakers, volunteers and all in attendance. We need to build on this momentum.”
Capacity-Building Cohorts Launched at Summit
The Empowerment Network’s national strategic partners were present to help launch or continue capacity-building cohorts regarding career advancement, leadership development, storytelling, fund development and wealth building.
Dr. Randal Pinkett opened the registration for the 5th cohort and a national edition of the Redefine the Game Institute. Pinkett shared insights regarding the changes in the field of diversity and inclusion and what it will take to be successful with career advancement moving forward.
Dr. Pamela Jolly is working with the Network to launch the 3rd cohort of the Legacy Wealth initiative. Jolly challenged attendees to build on the closed loop economy that has launched in Omaha.
Suzan Hart’s cohort will leverage her internationally recognized approach to strategic, collaborative leadership and storytelling. Hart shared her personal journey towards full empowerment as she found purpose by unleashing the power of her own story.
Anna Barber is launching a cohort to help leaders with fund and donor development strategies to make visions a reality. Barber shared insights from her experience of developing hundreds of millions of dollars in contributions including the African-American History Museum in Washington D.C.
Obama Foundation and Department of Justice Attend Summit
Dr. Adren Wilson, Executive Director of My Brother’s Keeper and Vice-President of the Obama Foundation, was present to celebrate Omaha as one of four model communities.
Karhlton Moore, Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance representing the Department of Justice, attended the Leadership Summit to learn more about the Empowerment Network’s approach to addressing root causes and mobilizing sectors of the community.
Dr. Will Moreland, one of the Network’s national strategic partners had the crowd fully engaged as he emphasized the key message of the Summit: “Be Intentional!”
Dozens of Local Leaders Highlighted Their Commitments
Local speakers emphasized the importance of collaboration and supporting black businesses.
Kimara Snipes, new executive director of One Omaha, highlighted the role of neighborhoods in using asset-based development and specific ways neighborhoods support small businesses.
Pastor Brian Page, Senior Pastor of Pleasant Green Baptist Church, represented churches and highlighted the impact local churches continue to have in serving the community and providing leadership in partnership with community-based organizations.
Tamera Spurlock and Andrea Walker, co-leads with Amplify, PayPal’s Black Employee Resource Group provided powerful examples of what they do to help employees achieve success while also serving and volunteering in the community. Amplify is also very intentional about supporting Black businesses.
Deputy Chief Sherie Thomas of the Omaha Police Department illustrated the power of working together to make change happen in the community. Thomas also noted the way the Black Police Officer’s Association supports small businesses and hosts impactful events with youth and the community.
Barney and State Senator Justin Wayne, Willie Hamilton, President of Black Men United and Leo Louis, business owner and board chair of the Malcolm X Foundation, shared perspectives on what it takes to get past divisions to make a positive impact in the community.
Jonathan Chapman, Vice-President of Community Collaboratives for the Empowerment Network hosted a panel with State Senator Terrell McKinney, Aja Anderson, Executive Director of the LiveWell Partnership, Racquel Henderson, Navigator at Metropolitan Community College and Marisa Hattab, Director of Diversity, and Inclusion for Douglas County. The panel focused on ways to build on the foundation of collective work in Omaha to create the future desired by the community.
The final session of the day featured Nadia Spurlock, a recent graduate from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln and the newest member of the Empowerment Network team and Denzell Dial, a senior at the University of Nebraska Omaha, majoring in aviation.
Both Spurlock and Dial spoke about the impact of their families, the community organizations they were a part of while they were growing up in North Omaha and their hopes for the future as they both lead efforts to help the next generation. They were joined by other young men and women who are working to build out the MBK Omaha initiative for young men and Empowered Young Women’s groups.
“We encourage everyone to stay engaged throughout the rest of the year and into 2024,” said Jonathan Chapman, Vice-President of Community Collaboratives for the Empowerment Network. “Stay connected via our website and Facebook page. There’s something for everyone to do.”
Saturday, Dec. 2nd…Get ready for 13th Annual Christmas in the Village at 24th & Lake
Tis the season to join in the holiday spirit at the 13th Annual Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake on Saturday, December 2nd from Noon to 5 pm.
The Empowerment Network and Omaha Economic Development Corporation in partnership with dozens of community partners are inviting residents to attend this one-of-a-kind cultural community celebration and holiday tradition.
Christmas in the Village is the largest holiday event in North Omaha and draws thousands of visitors from the region to the historic 24th and Lake district each year. Attendees have come from as far away as Lincoln, Kansas City, St. Louis, Minneapolis and other cities.
The event will kick-off at noon with Santa and Mrs. Claus on a horse-drawn carriage. “We encourage the community to come out early and line 24th Street for a special kick-off with Santa and Mrs. Claus and all of our cartoon characters,” said Vicki Quaites-Ferris, Vice-President of Community Development for the Empowerment Network and Event Manager for Christmas in the Village.
Come Play, Sing and Enjoy! There will be plenty outdoor activities for children and adults, including: holiday music featuring local recording artists, choirs and dance groups; live nativity scene including a camel; free carriage rides; free toys, gifts and candy while supplies last; face painting; balloon artist; cartoon characters; interactive games and activities, handmade pottery; and, much more.
Come ready to Shop and Eat! The Holiday Boutique will return this year with over 30 different vendors showcasing unique merchandise. Vendors will serve the community under a heated BIG TENT on the southwest corner of 24th and Lake next to the Family Housing Advisory Services Building. Plus, businesses in the district will offer special discounts and holiday items for sale. Food trucks and local restaurants will have food for purchase.
“We’re excited to bring back the Holiday Boutique, which has always been one of the most popular attractions,” said Aisha Conner, manager of the Village Empowerment Center and coordinator of the Christmas in the Village Holiday Boutique. “We have some amazing vendors that you will want to check out and support.
Major sponsors for Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake include: American National Bank, Mutual of Omaha, Douglas County Visitors Improvement Fund and Nebraska Arts Council. Media sponsors include KETV and Revive! Omaha Magazine.
Get Ready to Shop, Play, Eat, Sing, See and Enjoy! 70+ small businesses, organizations, ministries and artists have teamed to make this the largest and best ever!
The Christmas in the Village partners want to remind the community that street closures will take place at the following major intersections beginning at 10 am:
- 25th to 22nd and Lake Street
- 24th & Maple to 24th & Burdette Street
Streets will reopen @ 5:30 pm.
Christmas in the Village is part of the on-going re-establishment of an arts, culture, business and entertainment district at 24th and Lake envisioned in the North Omaha Village Revitalization Plan facilitated by the Empowerment Network, OEDC and community partners over 12 years ago. It has served as one of the major catalysts for the development occurring in the historic 24th and Lake district.
Christmas in the Village is one of the largest events in North Omaha and is part of the ongoing North Omaha Village Zone Revitalization Plan and rebirth of the arts, culture, and entertainment district at 24th and Lake. Christmas in the Village started as a vision from Willie Barney and was initially designed in partnership with Vicki Quaites-Ferris, Empowerment Network Arts and Culture Co-Chairs Deborah Bunting and Stacy Henry; and Michael Maroney and the OEDC (Omaha Economic Development Corporation) team.
Urban League presents African-American Leadership Awards on Nov. 2nd
Congratulations to the 2023 Class of African-American Leadership Award Winners presented by the Urban League of Nebraska.
Join The Urban League of Nebraska and Honorary Chairs Othello & Tulani Meadows as they honor the leaders in our community who have made a difference. Since 1989, the Urban League has convened individuals from across the City of Omaha and from different professional sectors to honor exemplary African-American leaders.
The Urban League of Nebraska (ULN) seeks to build resilience in the North Omaha community by dismantling the wall that stands between our underserved community members and a more prosperous future. Our AALA honorees have achieved milestones that help us in this noble endeavor. Because of their efforts, Omaha is a better place to live and North Omaha is stronger and more resilient.