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Ricketts: Nebraskans rose to 2020 challenge

Ricketts: Nebraskans rose to 2020 challenge

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Pete Ricketts

Pete Ricketts is the governor of the state of Nebraska.

When the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Day, many are going to be glad to have 2020 in the history books. It’s not been easy to endure the pandemic, but I’m inspired by the way Nebraskans have pulled together to fight the virus. Even though it’s been a tough year, Nebraskans have shown great resilience as a state, and we’ve made vital contributions to the nation’s response to the global pandemic.

Before anyone in our state tested positive for coronavirus, Nebraskans were already stepping up to help protect our fellow Americans from the disease. On Feb. 7, Camp Ashland — an installation of the Nebraska National Guard — hosted 57 Americans who had been evacuated from the region of Wuhan, China, where the virus originated. The quarantine operation was a success. All of the evacuees were cleared for release after a two-week quarantine period. On Feb. 17, the University of Nebraska Medical Center took in more than a dozen Americans who had been rescued from a Diamond Princess cruise ship off the coast of Japan. The patients were treated and monitored in the National Quarantine Unit, and all of them were released in good health.

With this experience behind us, protecting Nebraska’s hospitals became the “north star” guiding our strategic response to the coronavirus. We’ve been successful in ensuring that every Nebraskan who needs a hospital bed, ICU bed or ventilator has access to one. We put together a six-part plan to help achieve this goal: testing, contact tracing, purchasing and distributing PPE, setting aside space for people to quarantine, protecting at-risk populations, and issuing directed health measures.

In addition to these steps, Nebraskans have been using the tools to slow the spread of the virus such as social distancing, wearing a mask to the store, washing hands often and staying home when sick. Our communities have responded as expected — by looking out for one another and doing the right thing.

As we’ve protected hospital capacity, we’ve also been working to help Nebraskans recover. The state steered federal coronavirus relief toward $411 million in grants for Nebraska’s businesses and family farms. This includes grants of $12,000 to 12,214 small businesses and 9,209 livestock producers with 75 or fewer employees. The funds also include stabilization grants to hotels and convention centers, zoos, ethanol producers, event centers and sports arenas. According to the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank, “revenues generated in November by the state’s small businesses were the third strongest in the nation relative to January.”

The strength of Nebraska’s ag producers, food processors and transportation companies have helped feed the world throughout the pandemic. Companies in our state have also played pivotal roles in the efforts to produce a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine. Meridian Clinical Research in Omaha took part in the clinical trial to gather research on the Moderna vaccine, which arrived to our state last week. Becton Dickinson invested $70 million to expand its capacity in Nebraska in order to manufacture the needles and syringes used to administer vaccines. These are just a couple of examples of how Nebraska has played a leading role in the national response to the pandemic.

While battling coronavirus, we’ve kept building on our Four Pillars to keep Nebraska moving forward even in the midst of tough circumstances. We’ve seen new opportunities in developing our workforce, with the creation of 2,280 Career Scholarships at our state’s colleges and universities to help connect young Nebraskans to great jobs in fields with a high demand for talent. We’ve made it easier to do business in Nebraska by continuing to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of state government services. This has helped attract major investments from Camping World (Sidney), Amazon and Hormel (Papillion), Vireo (Plattsmouth), Dollar General (Blair), and Monolith Materials (Hallam) — just to name a few examples from 2020.

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been cutting red tape to keep Nebraskans working. From giving licensed professions more flexibility to allowing restaurants to offer carryout alcohol, we looked for ways to grow our health care workforce and help small businesses survive. The jobs being created across our state have helped Nebraska to have the nation’s lowest unemployment rate. At 3.1%, our unemployment rate for November 2020 is only slightly above where it stood one year ago (3.0%) — despite the pandemic.

In August 2020, we also celebrated a giant step forward in delivering property tax relief to Nebraskans. The bill the Legislature passed, and I signed into law, creates a refundable income tax credit based on your property taxes paid to schools. Once the tax credit is phased in, the state will provide an additional $375 million in property tax relief.

While the coronavirus postponed the trade missions we had planned in 2020, we still saw fruit from our international engagement this year. In early March, Vietnamese trade officials visited Lincoln as a follow up from our fall 2019 trade mission to Hanoi. They committed to buy $3 billion of beef, corn, distiller’s grains, soybeans and wheat from Nebraska in the next two to three years.

In spite of all the challenges, we have a lot we can be grateful for over the past year. We still have a ways to go before the pandemic is over, but Nebraskans can be proud of how the state has come together during this difficult time. If you have questions about coronavirus vaccinations or our current directed health measures, please email pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or call 402-471-2244. Working together, we rebuilt bigger and better after the 2019 floods. I’m confident we’ll also emerge from the coronavirus pandemic stronger than ever in 2021. Happy New Year!

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