By KC Belitz
In early July, I will begin my new role as Director of the Department of Economic Development for the State of Nebraska. It is an extraordinary honor to serve my home state in this capacity and I will bring with me experiences from my past career.
As Chief Operating Officer of Nebraska Community Foundation, I like to think I learned a thing or two about community economic development. Lessons I will undoubtedly carry with me to my new appointment. I don’t have any illusions or preconceived notions that I know everything required or precisely what I will aim to accomplish in my new position, but there are a few things I believe with great certainty.
Young people want what Greater Nebraska has.
During my time at Nebraska Community Foundation, I was intimately involved with statewide youth surveys (a partnership with the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Center for Public Affairs Research) which aimed to measure middle and high school students’ perceptions about their Greater Nebraska hometowns and what they are looking for in a place to call home.
Year after year the survey results point to the same conclusion—Greater Nebraska has what young people want. Good schools, proximity to family and safety consistently rank as the top three things young people are looking for in their ideal community. Furthermore, the majority of students say they can envision a future in their rural communities, and very few report any stigma with returning to their hometown as an adult. This shift in narrative is critical to the economic health and future of our state.
People attraction and business attraction are two sides of the same coin.
During my time at Nebraska Community Foundation, I spent a great deal of time on what we refer to as people attraction—in other words, making our communities the kinds of places that people want to live, work, play and raise their families. This comes in many forms—great schools, recreation, arts and culture, quality of life amenities and early childhood education among them. Across the state, NCF’s community-based affiliated funds are working diligently to build magnetic communities and using philanthropy as a tool to do so.
Prosperous businesses are looking for great communities. Places that they can use to attract quality workforce and retain talent. People attraction is a focus I intend to keep as the Director of DED.
Nebraska is blessed with abundance and incredible assets.
It didn’t take a job to teach me this lesson, but it’s been affirmed at every turn through my work at Nebraska Community Foundation. Nebraska is blessed with assets like our bright young people, an entrepreneurial culture and deep love of community. There is also tremendous abundance evident in our philanthropic spirit, steadfast willingness to help a neighbor in need and what NCF calls the intergenerational transfer of wealth, in other words, the money that will transfer from generation to generation, as parents pass away and leave their estates to their children.
I can’t capture my entire tenure at Nebraska Community Foundation in a single column. I’ve learned and experienced so much traveling our great state and working with wonderful people in communities large and small. These lessons are embedded deeply in my approach to building stronger communities, a stronger economy and ultimately, a Greater Nebraska.
KC Belitz is the Chief Operating Officer of Nebraska Community Foundation. He was recently appointed by Nebraska Governor Jim Pillen as the next Director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development and will begin his new position in July.