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Former ConAgra CEO remembered

Posted at 10:55 PM, May 29, 2016

The former head of ConAgra, Mike Harper died over the weekend.

Many who knew him and his work speak to KMTV about his accomplishments and what he meant to the city of Omaha.

Harper took over a small company in the mid-1970s and transformed it into a Fortune 500 company.

“Mike Harper was the key that unlocked the renaissance, the rebuilding the riverfront the work that you see now that we all enjoy in the downtown and the heart of our city,” said former Omaha mayor Hal Daub.

Daub was in Congress representing Omaha when Harper led ConAgra’s move to downtown, transforming Jobbers Canyon into a sprawling corporate campus.

“They saw a space where they could put their roots down,” said Daub.

“He didn't force anybody to do it, he just simply said if you want me downtown this is what has to be done,” said Martin Shukert.

Shukert was the Omaha city planning director in the 1980’s. He said ConAgra’s move downtown set the tone for future growth. Harper led an effort that resulted in the state offering business tax incentives, a program many current companies now take advantage of.

Daub said as mayor, he reaped the benefits of Harper’s business foresight.

“Passed what was known and still known today as LB 775 that created the incentives for Mike to say, we are staying and we are going to grow and then became a Fortune 500 company and look what's happened to our riverfront in downtown, a lot of that credit goes to Mike Harper,” said Daub.

Under Harper, ConAgra grew to more than 200 brands after he had a heart attack in 1985, his wife convinced him to start the ‘Healthy Choice’ brand.

“Turned it into a very large force in the food industry one of the largest in the country,” said Shukert.

Harper retired in 1992, after 18 years leading the company.

“His legacy is still going to be here in Omaha, and the company's history is going to record that Omaha is the place where this company came together grew and prospered,” said Daub.