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Paloucek: North Platte learning how optimism feels

Paloucek: North Platte learning how optimism feels

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One hesitates to even think it — much less write it down in black and white — for fear of generating a jinx. But, North Platte, we are on a bit of a roll here.

A Nebraska company called Sustainable Beef LLC is seriously contemplating building a $300 million state-of-the-art beef processing plant near North Platte’s sewage lagoons that will employ 875 employees — line workers expected to earn $50,000 annually.

Another Nebraska company, Rev Development LLC, has purchased the city’s worn-out mall and has ambitious plans to transform it into a modern shopping center that will draw retail and restaurant tenants that locals have long craved. Rev’s renovation plan has a $75 million price tag and is projected to generate as many as 620 jobs. Advances in housing construction and habitability have been and continue to be made.

Chief Industries’ (yet another Nebraska company) multiphase development in our I-80 corridor between the interchanges has already generated millions of dollars in improvements and produced the side benefit of ending a three-decade source of contention with its purchase of Iron Eagle Golf Course from the city in early May.

The group raising funds for construction of a playground in Centennial Park is within $25,000 of its $334,000 goal.

Our downtown’s beautifying facelift is rounding into its final stretch, and work on the Hotel Pawnee is slated to continue.

The Unicameral just allocated $10 million over the next two years for “rail park” development that could help fund direct access to Union Pacific rails, an irresistible draw for processing and logistics businesses, at a site just east of Hershey.

In the past two weeks, K & M Tire Inc., a nationwide tire supplier, announced plans to break ground on a 50,000 square foot distribution center in North Platte’s Twin Rivers Business Park.

Our recent experience suggests that economic development may be subject to its own version of physics’ law of conservation of momentum. That is the concept that, in the absence of an intervening force, an object at rest tends to stay at rest, and an object in motion continues to move. Until recently, we were experiencing plenty of the “object at rest” side of economic development momentum. So what intervening force has started our economic snowball rolling down the hill?

One unmistakable factor is that North Platte thankfully has lost its reputation for being unwelcoming, to put it mildly, to projects that are going to seek tax increment financing and other governmental incentives. Our civic leaders and citizens have come to grips with the reality that desired development often requires inducements that local government can provide which the “free market” alone cannot generate. TIF may briefly divert increased property tax revenue generated by development back to the developer to help pay for qualifying expenses, but that minimal delay in public receipts beats the heck out of development never occurring for lack of financial viability.

The mall redevelopment project received final City Council approval last night for imposition of an enhanced employment area tax of 1.95% on sales made on mall property to be in effect no longer than 20 years nor generate more than a total of $7.51 million; that revenue goes to the developer to help finance the renovation.

And in the 2020 election, North Platte citizens voted loudly and clearly in favor of continuation of our Quality Growth Fund by a margin of 3-to-1. That program annually sets aside up to $650,000 of city sales tax for economic development purposes.

Economic development creates jobs, sales and sales taxes, and broadens the property tax base. Economic development brings desired stores, services and eateries to town. Economic development makes communities more attractive places to live for current and future residents. Happily, in our town here between the rivers, using collective community resources to encourage desired economic development is no longer considered a non-starter. Thankfully, loud voices speaking negatively about incentives for economic development no longer reign in our community. We have opened our eyes to the truth that a benefit granted to someone does not mean that someone else loses something, that economic development is not a zero-sum game, that sometimes everyone can gain.

We are learning to have a sense of optimism here in North Platte, to give cynicism a back seat on occasion. Look around. It’s kind of nice.

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