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Omaha Recovery Act aims to make poverty in North Omaha 'the past tense'

$250M in funding goes to North Omaha, $55M to South Omaha
Posted at 6:59 PM, Apr 28, 2022

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Thursday was a day of celebration for North Omaha.

Sen. Justin Wayne took a business approach while working to pass the Omaha Recovery Act, which will see a massive investment in the historically marginalized communities of North Omaha and South Omaha.

“We recognize we’re not going to be able to 'social program' our way out of the issues.”

He planned out the details and showed how North Omaha can lift up the rest of the state and vice versa.

Plenty agreed with him.

"$4 billion of economic activity will be added to the Omaha region when North and South Omaha reach equity in the rest of the community,” said Willie Barney, president of the Empowerment Network in Omaha.

Wayne's plan worked and Gov. Pete Ricketts formally signed the bill in North Omaha on Thursday. The Omaha Recovery Act will invest around $250 million in North Omaha and another $55 million in South Omaha.

“It’s the first time the state is investing millions of dollars into our community,” said Wayne.

So where is the money going?

There’s a process. Studies need to be conducted and Wayne says they’re currently recruiting businesses and there will be a formal application process in August.

The bill aims to address affordable housing, small business assistance, job training and business development.

But Barney — who’s been pushing for economic equity in North Omaha for years — says they have good businesses, programs and initiatives in place already: now they’ll have a chance to boom.

“We always talked about, with a larger investment we can really take it to scale, so we can see more businesses expanded, launched and scaled up. We can see homes developed in our community, we can hire more youth,” said Barney.

One particularly fleshed-out area of the plan is to build upon the business park already in place near Eppley Airfield.

One business owner already has plans to expand to that spot.

Osie Combs Jr, owner of Pacific Engineering, a defense contractor outside Lincoln, says he’s committed to putting 100 jobs in the area of the airport business park. "We need good technical skills with a mind and a will to work,” said Combs.

“We’re looking to have a mixture of about 40% of our employees and future employees that’ll come from the North Omaha and South Omaha community,” said Combs.

Wayne credited the late Nebraska State Sen. Rich Pahls for fervently advocating for the plan, and convincing Republicans to support it.

With the bill now passed, Wayne said the work begins now toward the lofty goals that are in sight.

"When we talk about poverty in North Omaha, we talk about it in the past tense, that it’s no longer a big issue like it is today," said Wayne.

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