Omaha: The Silicon Prairie

Taylor Evert and Sarah McLain

Globalization is defined by the Webster Dictionary as “the development of an
increasingly integrated global economy.” (Webster). In the recent century, it has been a common phrase amongst many circles. Farhad Nezhad Haj Ali Irani, author of “Globalization and Challenges; What are the Globalization’s Contemporary Issues?” identifies three types of globalization: “economic liberalization”, “westernization”, and “the proliferation of new information technologies.’’ (216) In this study, the focus is on how globalization and new technology has a local effect: how does globalization affect Omaha, Nebraska? Globalization is a driving factor in how the economy and culture of a community is shaped. This is happening now in Omaha with the development of the Silicon Prairie, a technological hub, which is impacting Omaha and its future. From this data, this experiment is seeking to understand what brings people into Omaha’s silicon prairie, how the community is evolving, how Omaha’s work environment is changing, how Omaha’s employment is affected, and what this means for the future of Omaha.
In order to find all of the information, the first step was to find scholarly journals that
help us understand globalization as a whole. After figuring out exactly what globalization was the search was narrowed to, specifically, technology and the Silicon Prairie. The next step was to find articles that related back to Omaha and technology. From nine solid sources comprised of scholarly journals, KETV articles, Silicon Prairie News, and Omaha World-Herald articles, a table was created. The table consisted of five themes which were used to code sources. After finding all of the information that would be included in the paper, an outline was created.
     Bringing people in
In order to expand Omaha and make it a bigger part of the Silicon Prairie, the first step was to figure out what is bringing people to Omaha. Why do businesses want to be in Omaha? A recurring theme throughout the sources talked about the people of
Omaha. Peg Johnson, a former Omahanian, moved to California to join the new tech startup i2c.  Johnson gives some insight into how her company chose Omaha. She explains that when thinking of expanding the company, they knew they wanted to go somewhere in the midwest due to people’s work ethic and their loyalty to their employer. Omaha was also chosen due to its talent pool with people in the fintech industry, reported Steve Jordon with the Omaha World- Herald. Governor, Pete Ricketts, stated that a strong workforce and a welcoming community help seal deals (Omaha World-Herald). The fact that Omaha is known to have kind, hardworking people, is a good reflection on Omaha. “When Facebook makes a decision like that, that tells a lot of other companies that Omaha is a place they should be considering, too,” states David Brown (Omaha World-Herald). This will attract other big companies to look into Omaha for their next big project. Even as Omaha grows, there is still that “small town” feel. Christine McGuigan with Silicon Prairie News interviewed Peterson and Polivka. The creators of Watts, they explained how they both came from small towns and they like the small community feel. They said they like to be able to rely on people for things and be relied on, they like to bring that mentality into the workplace. Along with a smaller community feel, it is a safe and affordable place to raise a family. Holly Benson, tech manager of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, said, “We encourage tech
talent to move here because this is a place where you can actually start a family and afford to live here, but also advance your career.”
As Omaha grows, it is important to make advancements to keep up with the growing
community. David Earl with KETV states, “A key component of creating the place that will attract people is a modern transit system, not just a streetcar or a bus rapid transit, but an entire network that can shuttle people around the city and its urban core from their homes and work.”  Most big cities have some form of transport that can get people all over the city. This would allow people to raise a family in the suburbs while also working downtown. Allowing people more access to public transportation will also cut down on pollution in Omaha. Going green is another thing that new buildings in Omaha are working towards. A KETV article titled, TD Ameritrade celebrates new Omaha Headquarters, says that they designed the new building so it uses half as much energy as a building of a similar size. The goal is energy efficiency. This is very important to not only Omaha but also the employees of these energy-efficient buildings. Spending less money on the electricity bill allows for extra money in the budget for other things.
In today’s society, going green is very important to some people. So when buildings in Omaha start going green, that reflects positively on Omaha.
     Community growth
As more people are coming to Omaha, the community is naturally developing more and more. A community can develop on its own through time, but with peoples help it can develop and grow into a very productive and great community. The new Facebook
center coming to Papillion is a great step towards developing the community; as the city grows, its people have to be able to adapt to changes. David Brown, CEO of Greater Omaha, states in the article that, “because Facebook makes this decision to grow in Papillion, it will appeal to other companies as well,” which will lead to development. When other companies see a big company like facebook, choosing Omaha for a new building, this will make other companies look at Omaha for their next project as well.
According to Barbara Soderlin with the Omaha World-Herald, she reported that Omaha
has 42 new projects this past year. This made Omaha number one on a list of top- 10 midsize metro areas for the third year in a row. This shows people that Omaha is always trying to improve itself and is slowly expanding. “We’ve got to let our young people know there are great career opportunities in science and technology, manufacturing and construction — a lot of things that may not require that four-year degree but certainly require some postsecondary education,” he said. If young people can find decent jobs without attending a 4-year university, there is a bigger chance they will stay in Omaha. If Omaha is having all of these projects constantly going, that means there would be plenty of jobs available for those with the right training. With jobs more accessible, that will bring more people here. David Earl with KETV explains that economic developers consider university systems a “critical pipeline of talent to grow Omaha’s workforce
and its population through the out- of- state students that elect to work in Omaha.” The
universities bring educated out of state workers to the city. In the Silicon Prairie News, an article by Christine McGuigan, explains that Peterson and Polvika believe that the recent developments along Leavenworth is creating a revived interest in the “city center” and bringing developments back from the suburbs. With this they are also
saying that a tech industry is forming in the “city center”, making a stronger tech community that will help to bring different people to the city. Another way to bring in more tech talents outside of Nebraska and local talents is by using the Omaha Code School. The Omaha Code School is where people go who are willing to change their career paths and can learn the basics of making things like websites and apps. It is not a college replacement but instead an alternative, cheaper and faster option. This kind of schools makes it easier for the tech industry to grow in Omaha.
People might come to Omaha in order to go to this kind of schools, in turn developing the tech industry in Omaha.  As development increases, values can change in a community. KETV wrote about the new TD Ameritrade building in 2013, saying it was going to be a more energy efficient building and use about half as much energy as another building that size. This not only benefits the community but might also set a standard for future businesses and buildings. Another value that is becoming more prominent in Omaha is a more women-friendly tech community. The Silicon Prairie News says that Omaha is not only trying to improve the lives of women in the city but also succeed at something the rest of the country is failing at. The article states, “There’s an opportunity to not only improve the lives of women here in Omaha but also be a tech hub for women across the whole country and do something really well that Silicon Valley is not doing well. Omaha could be a haven for all incredible female tech talent.” This is a value that is being
discussed all over the United States right now and it is nice to know that Omaha is making it a priority. It is also very important that they realized women weren’t getting treated fairly in the tech world. A development like this is very important to any community because it shows that Omaha cares for the community and wants to work on improving anything they can.
     Employment in Omaha
With the new growth in this Silicon Prairie in Omaha comes new jobs and opportunities for employment. This experiment has found that employment has been affected in two main areas. The first is that of the FinTech industry, or “Financial Technology”. This includes industries such as Paypal, and TD Ameritrade, both of which have offices in Omaha which are quickly expanding. Another example of a Fintech company is i2c.
Jordon states that i2c plans to open “its second North American operations center in Omaha by this summer and employ about 300 people within a year, with hiring to start next week.” Paypal and TD Ameritrade are also looking to expand in the near future. Just five years ago, TD Ameritrade opened a new headquarters in Omaha. According to a KETV article entitled “TD Ameritrade Celebrates New Omaha Headquarters”, “more than 1,300 Ameritrade workers moved into the 12-story tower in west Omaha earlier this year.” Due to these industries, employment in Omaha is increasing. With this increased amount of employment comes a shift in the face of employment. There has been a trend in employment towards people of different demographics, as well as people who operate under different business models. Women in technology is a value in the community which is on the way to heavily affecting employment. McGuigan states, “Stavick
knows there are barriers to bringing that number up to at least 50% and that huge change will take time, but she believes that smaller degrees of change can happen faster.” Although these changes have not occurred yet, they are several of many changes that will affect who is the face of the technological industries in Omaha. Entrepreneurs are also people of interest in this new growing technological field. The new company Watts is placing emphasis on these entrepreneurs. “Peterson and Polivka understand the challenges that entrepreneurs face when they’re trying to launch businesses out of their homes and they think there’s a better way for entrepreneurs to get off the ground,” states McGuigan. “They’ll be renovating the space and looking for other entrepreneurs who want to become a part of the growing neighborhood and tech community.” Watts is trying to encourage more entrepreneurs to explore their ideas.
      Changing work environment
Omaha’s community is also heavily impacted by this shift in work environments due to the the Silicon Prairie, and how Omaha’s community will be impacted by the expansion of these tech jobs. This is mainly by changing the values in the community, by changing what types of people are in the community, and by influencing and encouraging a strong “tech” community.  With this new tech boom, there is more emphasis on values such as cleaner energy and access to materials that make it possible to have clean energy. Hailey Konnath of the Omaha World-Herald quotes Jim Piazza with Facebook as saying, “The people and partners that attracted us to Papillion continue to deliver with talented workers, access to clean renewable energy and excellent access to fiber.” Konnath continues, “Facebook has said access to clean power is one of the reasons it’s excited about the Omaha-area project. OPPD adopted a new rate structure for Facebook that allows the data center to be powered with 100 percent clean energy.”  This shows a shift in community values from traditional power to green energy. Another example of this new shift towards green energy is with TD Ameritrade. According to KETV, TD
Ameritrade’s new building in Omaha is taking a more energy efficient route, as well. “The building is designed to meet stringent standards for energy efficiency. So it is expected to use half as much energy as buildings of similar size and age,” KETV reports.
Another change in values has been a recent push in the community for more women in
tech, reflected in an article by Christine McGuigan of Silicon Prairie News. She writes about local Rebecca Stavick, director at Do Space. Stavick believes that by focusing specifically on catering to women in technological fields, Omaha could focus its efforts of bringing new talent into the city and better fit to their needs, as opposed to attempting to appeal to a broad audience. Stavick calls this “an opportunity for Omaha to not only improve the lives of women in the city but also succeed at something that the country’s most famous tech center is failing at.” This idea that women in the workforce could be a driving force in Omaha is a reflection of the community’s new values and shift away from the traditional demographic and criticisms of the West Coast’s Silicon Valley.
Omaha’s schools are also being affected by this shift. Currently, there is a new emphasis
on tech jobs that do not necessarily require a four-year degree. According to Barbara Soderlin of the OWH, Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts states that he wants to direct more young adults seeking jobs towards jobs in fields which may require a bit less schooling. “We’ve got to let our young people know there are great career opportunities in science and technology, manufacturing and construction — a lot of things that may not require that four-year degree but certainly require some postsecondary education,” Ricketts states. This shift would have drastic effects on the community; Omaha would see an influx of a different type of student, possibly affecting the curriculum of the University of Omaha nearby. This may also make certain tech jobs more accessible to members of the community who may not have the same opportunity to get a four-year degree, while also increasing interest in the field to draw others in. Laurann Robinson of KETV further emphasizes the importance of the University’s values. “Economic developers call the university system a “critical pipeline of talent to grow Omaha’s workforce and its population through the out-of-state students that elect to work in Omaha,” states
Robinson. Because the focus is shifting to more tech-based careers, the local universities might at the very least see an influx of people who are looking to get a degree in technological fields. Finally, with the influence of FINTECH  companies, there will be a shifting and growing community that adapts to bigger business, and the new ideas that they bring with them. Omaha’s community is being heavily impacted and shaped by the new flow of tech companies. Christine McGuigan again writes for the Silicon Prairie News, about a startup called Watts. Watts wants to “[create] a revived interest in the “city center” and bringing development back from the suburbs.” This is just one example of how big tech companies will change the way that Omaha adapts and develops.
     The future of Omaha
After analyzing what brings people to Omaha and what keeps them here, as well as the effects that these new jobs have on Omaha, one must analyze how this will affect Omaha’s growth in the future. This can be mapped out by discussing further
expansion in Omaha, changes in diversity and job growth, and ways to keep people —
specifically, younger people who would vitalize this industry — in Omaha.
Omaha’s future growth will involve a lot of expansion. The first evidence of this is
evident with the Facebook data center in Papillion. According to Konnath’s article about
expansion into Papillion from earlier, “When Facebook makes a decision like that, that tells a lot of other companies that Omaha is a place they should be considering, too.” All of those reasons discussed in this article — mainly involving the aspects of the community such as work ethic and affordability — will only further draw more companies into the metro area. Another example of this expansion is the previously mentioned “tech district”. Peterson and Polivka of Watts want a community in which “tech innovators can come together and take advantage of a condensed network of professionals.” If people like Polivka and Peterson get their way, there could be a lot
more cooperation between tech innovators in the upcoming years. Another effect on Omaha’s future is the increased diversity in the workforce, specifically involving technology. Mentioned earlier was McGuigan’s article about women in the tech field,
and how, although it might take a lot of work, Omaha could easily become a safe haven for female techies. Another example of this diversification is the inclusion and emphasis on jobs in this industry not requiring four-year degrees. By emphasizing that a four-year degree isn’t needed, these tech jobs will immediately become much more accessible to all members of the community. Finally, another example of diversity in the workforce is the diversity in thinking that is mentioned in the article McGuigan wrote about Watts: these new ideas from the West Coast that are being brought over are slowly evolving and changing to fit the midwest, as well as encouraging new midwestern thinkers.
Finally, there are a few overall ideas that people have had in regards to retaining the new youth population. One of these is to maintain and further perpetuate Omaha’s reputation as a “tech talent hub”. For example, in the case of i2c, just having a new company come into Omaha influences other companies to take the same risk. According to Steve Jordon of the OWH, “This mutually beneficial investment by i2c stands to strengthen Nebraska’s reputation as a Silicon Prairie hub for the financial technology sector.” The tech talent manager of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, Holly Benson, has a similar outlook.” The vision is to establish greater Omaha as a nationally recognized tech talent hub,” she said in an article for KETV about the Chamber planning to add nearly four thousand tech jobs by 2020. By maintaining this reputation
of a new Silicon Valley and encouraging new companies and jobs to come to Omaha, younger people looking to start careers will flock to Omaha. Another idea for maintaining the youth population would be to focus on a specific group of youth techies that could possibly be attracted to Omaha. In her article, McGuigan is mainly talking about women in technology when she states that it would be more effective for Omaha to “find a very specific niche and try to move the needle on that;” however, this could apply to any group. By focusing efforts on a specific type of technology — say financial technology — it would be a lot easier to focus efforts on drawing in more youth in that industry and catering to them and their careers.
From this data, the conclusion can be drawn that this growing technological boom,
although one minor factor of Omaha’s growth, will continue to have a long lasting effect not just on the people who currently live there, but also the people of the future and their industries. The very culture, or “shared practices, values, and beliefs” of Omaha is being changed to place a higher value on technology. “[Culture] encompases a group’s way of life, from routine, everyday reactions to the most important part of a group member’s life,” according to Introduction to Sociology this growing emphasis on technology will lead to a variety of changes which could have both positive and negative outcomes. This issue is important because globalization, especially in this area, affects every aspect of Omaha. Globalization, especially in the technological industry, brings people into Omaha due to a changing work environment, which, in turn, fosters community growth and employment. All of these factors shape how Omaha has grown and will continue to grow in the future. Farhad Nezhad Haj Ali Irani of the International Journal of Humanities and Social Science states that “advances in communication and transportation technology, combined with free-market ideology, have given goods, services, and capital unprecedented mobility.” This is what the data has shown; with the increased levels of employment tied in with what ideological changes people, like the creators of Watts for example, are bringing to Omaha. Richard Freeman of
Economics of Innovation and New Technology is another expert who analyzes the importance of globalization. “The globalization of science and engineering (S&E) has greater potential for improving productivity and incomes around the world than these more widely publicized elements of globalization.” This is what has been found in Omaha as well; FINTECH and other technological hybrids have helped Omaha’s economy and community flourish, as new jobs and knowledge, along with opportunities, have arisen and lead to the spread and advancement of ideas. There were also similarities in Carnoy and Rhoten’s journal article, “What Does Globalization Mean for Educational Change? A Comparative Approach,” to Omaha’s growth and development: The virtual nation state is the site of production, and it encourages and stimulates investments from at home and abroad that expand production activities. But it realizes that for the national economy to prosper, its production does not have to take place at home; rather, it specializes in research and development, design, network, entertainment, and communication software, and in financial services.
Omaha is a community that focuses not only on improving itself, but improving the rest of the state. Globalization is spreading throughout Nebraska and the Omaha Metro Area, as the benefits of Nebraska communities and their economies are discovered. From here, Omaha reflects this idea of a virtual nation-state, developing its FINTECH industry and further investing in knowledge and growth of technology. The community is perhaps what globalization most effects. As stated by Lukas Figge in his article “The effects of globalization on Ecological Footprints: an empirical analysis”, “globalization has positive effects on economic growth, human development, gender equality, women’s rights and physical integrity rights.” Figge’s observations were also applicable to Omaha; Omaha is striving towards a better work environment for women. One of the articles even discussed Omaha being one of the most women friendly places. Action is already being
taken in order to make women a priority in the workplace.  Figge also discusses, however, a darker topic which also affects Omaha’s community: income inequality and technological stratification. “As with any improvement to human society, not everyone has equal access. Technology, in particular, often creates changes that lead to ever
greater inequalities” (Introduction to Sociology).  This technological divide is often described as having two main sectors: digital divide, and knowledge divide. In Omaha, both educators and employers will have to be wary of the accessibility of technology to their candidates and students. Specifically, while smartphones are available to nearly everyone, computer access is still sometimes restricted to those with higher economic status and possibly those who are not minorities.  “Negative effects were revealed as globalization has been shown to increase within-country income inequality, especially in developing countries.” This could possibly reflect on Omaha, as well. While it was noticed that there is mainly a trend towards higher employment, there is also more growth in an industry which requires access to technology and other highly
expensive resources. Omaha will have to strive to provide opportunities to employees of all backgrounds in order to avoid this situation that Figge discusses.
In this study, the effects of globalization in Omaha, specifically the effects of the Silicon
Prairie’s growth, were studied. Data was also reviewed concerning what brought people to Omaha, how this transition affected the community, workforce, and employment, and finally what these changes meant for the future of Omaha and what could possibly be seen in the future. In this analysis, it was determined that Omaha is following a pattern which has been detected by various other experts in the field of globalization, including but not limited to growth in the community related to equality and other social rights, as well as the path of growth which Omaha has followed, especially concerning which industries it has placed the most emphasis on. From this, it can be determined that Omaha is benefiting from technological globalization, but will
need to continue to strive towards success in this field.
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