UPDATED, May 24, 2023, 9:05 pm: Corrects name of NACO insurance affiliate to co-locate in Ogallala
Nebraska’s professional association that serves the state’s 93 counties has decided to build a western office in one of its former leaders’ old Unicameral district.
The Nebraska Association of County Officials will break ground June 2 on a 17,000-square-foot office building in the Ogallala North Business Park, also announced recently as the future home of a modular home construction factory by Las Vegas-based Modern Eminence.
Executive Director Jon Cannon said leaders of Lincoln-based NACO, founded in 1894, need a second location from which they can support the elected officials who staff courthouses across Nebraska’s 500-mile breadth.
“We’re super-excited. Ogallala is a great town,” Cannon said. “Like a lot of places in western Nebraska, it’s poised for something pretty special.”
People are also reading…
Also, “from our perspective, when you look at Nebraska being a large state with all of the major resources on one end, when you’re trying to serve people out in the west, it’s eight hours to Harrison” in the Panhandle’s Sioux County.
Cannon also pointed to the geographic layout of Nebraska’s counties. “If you look at the state of Nebraska as a giant tent and one tentpole is in Lincoln, logically the other tentpole should be near Ogallala,” he said.
“Our (service) population isn’t Omaha and Lincoln. Our population is county officials. So, from our perspective, it just makes sense.”
NACO’s main offices are at 1334 H St. in Lincoln, just west of the State Capitol.
Cannon’s late predecessor Jack Mills would be pleased, said Lincoln County Commissioner Joe Hewgley, whose Joseph R. Hewgley and Associates architectural firm will design NACO’s Ogallala building.
Mills, who died at age 81 in February 2019, spent part of his childhood in Big Springs and was an agribusinessman there before being elected District 44 state senator in 1974. The district included Ogallala at the time.
He resigned a few months early in 1978 when NACO named him executive director, a post he held until 2000. Mills later served as a board member and chief executive officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska.
Mills, “being from Big Springs, had always hoped to get something out in western Nebraska,” said Hewgley, a 38-year County Board member and former NACO president.
“So Jon Cannon picked up on that. … They decided to get something done, and hopefully it’ll make it nice for people in the western part of the state to not have to travel so many miles.”
Even with the immediacy of modern technology, it’ll be good for western county officials to have NACO closer, added Scotts Bluff County Board Chairman Ken Meyer.
“We try our best to communicate and to work with everybody else” in the state and other counties, he said. “It makes it tough when we have to drive 6½, seven hours to meet with people.”
Meyer said NACO’s decision also shows that eastern Nebraska-based state leaders are taking more of a statewide perspective.
“It’s taken us so long to erase that trademark of being ‘outstate Nebraska,’” he said. “We’re western Nebraska. We do make our mark, and we do count out here.”
Mary Wilson, executive director of Keith County Area Development, hailed the confirmation of Ogallala’s second notable new tenant in two months for its 20-year-old business park.
“Their investment creates great opportunities for Ogallala, Keith County and western Nebraska,” she said. “KCAD looks forward to working with such an impactful organization.”
KCAD and Ogallala leaders announced in April that Modern Eminence will build a $37.6 million, 200,000-square-foot manufacturing and display complex in the heart of the business park on the way to Lake McConaughy.
Cannon said NACO’s building will be prominently located on the park’s east side, just south of Lured In along North Spruce Street. It’s expected to be done by late 2024, about a year after Modern Eminence’s expected opening late this year.
The counties group likely will have three permanent employees based in Ogallala: a building office manager and one staff member apiece for its NACO Member Services and Multi-County Information and Programming Services affiliates.
NACO Member Services handles insurance for its participating counties. MIPS provides and manages the software programs used in county offices, Cannon said.
Having those two employees in Ogallala will greatly shorten travel time for them to visit courthouses or answer questions for western Nebraska county officials who drop by, he said.
NACO’s part of the building also will include an executive office that Cannon, Deputy Director Candace Meredith or MIPS Deputy Director Derrick Niederklein can use for extended periods when they make western swings.
The counties group will occupy the south half of the Ogallala building, Cannon said. The north half will be leased out to “chamber-type organizations” or other groups with a statewide focus like NACO has.
Zelle Human Resources, also of Lincoln, will claim one of the other offices as an “endorsed sponsor,” Cannon said. “The scope of their business is such that they felt the need to expand as well.”