By Gov. Pete Ricketts
As Nebraskans, we’re fortunate to live in a state where we enjoy peace, prosperity, and the blessings of liberty. As we celebrate Thanksgiving with friends and family, there are plenty of reasons to be grateful here in the Good Life.
First and foremost, Nebraska is filled with friendly, generous people. Nebraskans are quick to lend a hand—whether that’s shoveling the driveway of an elderly neighbor, delivering a home-cooked meal to a family with a newborn, or helping a fellow rancher round up cattle that have gotten out.
Many times, it’s these everyday acts of service that make Nebraskans stand out. But time and again, I have seen Nebraskans step up for one another in big ways. This week, I had the honor of presenting Frank Axiotes, of Elkhorn, with the Carnegie Hero Medal. It’s a national award given to men and women for acts of heroism. In September of 2020, Frank was driving along I-80 in Lincoln when he encountered a three vehicle crash in the opposite lanes. Instead of driving by, Frank sprang to action to aid those on-scene. He ran to a Chevy Trailblazer that was pinned between a semi and the barrier and helped remove 21-year-old Madison Daly and her nine-year-old brother from the vehicle before the car burst into flames. Nebraska is a better place because of people like Frank, who are willing to risk their lives for the safety of others without giving it a second thought.
Nebraskans are also generous with their time. According to United Health Foundation, our state ranks #3 in America for volunteerism. This willingness to serve is especially evident in seasons of adversity. 2022 is on pace to be the second-worst year for wildfires in Nebraska history. Firefighters have done heroic work to protect lives and property as wildfires have raged across the state. In Nebraska, there are 478 fire departments with over 17,000 firefighters who courageously serve to protect their communities. More than 15,000 of these firefighters are unpaid volunteers. As they’ve fought to contain fires, churches and schools have stepped up to collect donations to make sure our firefighters have all the nourishment they need to replenish their strength. On behalf of all Nebraskans, thank you to the men and women who’ve worked long shifts, risking their personal safety to fight wildfires this year. And thank you to their family, friends, and neighbors who’ve supported them.
Nebraskans also know how to roll up their sleeves and get the job done. We have more adults working per capita than in any other state. This strong work ethic has helped create the prosperity we enjoy.
The gross domestic product (GDP) of Nebraska grew at the fastest pace in ten years during 2021. This growth was driven by agriculture, our largest industry. It accounted for over half of our GDP growth last year. Nebraska’s total agricultural exports in 2021 were $10.2 billion. That’s up 70%—over $4 billion—in just two years.
We’ve also seen impressive growth in our economy’s second largest sector: manufacturing. This year, we achieved Nebraska’s highest manufacturing employment since 2003. We’ve attracted major investments from manufacturers of food (Sustainable Beef in North Platte; Milk Specialties in Norfolk), biofuel (Heartwell Renewables in Hastings), fertilizer (Monolith Materials in Hallam), personal safety equipment (3M in Valley), and much more.
And Nebraska’s third-largest industry, tourism, has bounced back even stronger than before the pandemic. Last year, visitors to Nebraska spent a record high of $3.6 billion. Total visitor expenditures grew 65% compared to 2020. That was a much stronger rebound than the national average (48%).
The State leveraged federal funding to invest $115 million to accelerate nonprofit capital projects delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is helping move forward major construction projects at tourist attractions across the state, including at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Lauritzen Gardens, Rowe Sanctuary in Gibbon, and the Merrick County Historical Museum. The funding is also helping to develop major sports complexes in Columbus, Cozad, La Vista, and Valley. These facilities will add to our state’s capacity to host regional and national athletic competitions, which will bring even more visitors to Nebraska.
All of this growth has generated record State revenues. Last fiscal year, the State surpassed its revenue projections by $1.47 billion. This made it possible for us to deliver historic tax relief during the 2022 Legislative Session.
On October 28, 2022, the State forecasting board raised the State’s revenue forecast by $2.5 billion through fiscal year 2024-2025 due to Nebraska’s continued economic strength. Our rainy-day fund is already larger than ever at $1.7 billion, and it’s forecasted to grow to $2.3 billion by the middle of 2024. That sets up the next Legislature to build on the historic tax relief we delivered to Nebraskans earlier this year.
Nebraska’s affordability, safe communities, and great schools are additional reasons to be thankful for the Good Life. Thanks to these strengths, the Cornhusker State routinely earns top marks as one America’s best states for families. This year, HomeSnacks, Rocket Mortgage, and Bankrate ranked Nebraska—respectively—as the #4, #5, and #6 best state to raise a family.
With great people, fantastic growth, and family-friendly communities, Nebraska truly is the Good Life. Thank you to everyone whose hard work has made 2022 another successful year for our state. As always, please contact me ([email protected] or 402-471-2244) should you have any questions or concerns. Happy Thanksgiving!