Economic development official visits NU

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By Jasmine Maharisi – News Editor

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Economic Development John Fernandez gave a lecture Nov. 23 on the University of Nebraska’s contribution to national innovation and entrepreneurship at the Embassy Suites in LaVista. More than 100 people from private and public sectors, including state politicians and members of the NU system, attended.

Fernandez spent two days visiting Nebraska and evaluating the state’s economic development potential. During his visit, he stopped at the university’s centers that focus on economic and technological development, including the Peter Kiewit Institute, the Scott Technology Center and the Nebraska Business Development Center at UNO. He also visited the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management at UNL.

NU President James B. Milliken invited Fernandez to Nebraska after they met at a forum hosted by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke.

“We are delighted to welcome Assistant Secretary Fernandez to Nebraska to share with him some of the ways the University of Nebraska is helping to foster business development, train the next generation of entrepreneurs and work with the private sector to grow the innovation economy in our state,” Milliken said in a Nov. 19 press release. “The Assistant Secretary has outlined an impressive innovation agenda in which research universities play an important role – an agenda which the University of Nebraska certainly supports.”

Fernandez also met with board members from the Nebraska Innovation Campus, an $800 million research and technology campus to be constructed on former state fair grounds in Lincoln. The campus will include research facilities, retail stores and a hotel. NIC’s goal is to contribute “significant job creation” Lincoln and Nebraska by capitalizing on research, according to NIC’s website. The innovation campus is expected to reel in 5,550 new jobs, according to Ed Swotek, chairman of the Downtown Lincoln Association.

Appointed by President Obama in 2009, Fernandez runs the Economic Development Administration, an administration that works to increase industrial and economic growth in distressed parts of the U.S. The EDA was established in 1965 under the Public Works and Economic Development Act. The administration also assists organizations and Native American tribes with short- and long-term development planning.

In his current role, Fernandez sees firsthand the reality of job growth and what college graduates can expect when they look for employment. Fernandez echoes Obama’s reassurance that college graduates will find jobs despite a 9.6 percent national unemployment rate.  

“The statistics show it,” he said. “The percentage of unemployment with people with a college degree is substantially less than the national numbers. There are tremendous opportunities, there are a lot of jobs and we’re on the verge, I think, of significant expansion.”

He said those opportunities are not only available in Nebraska but throughout the rest of the country, and he’s witnessed them in cities he’s recently visited.

“When we see the numbers on a macro level, they’re not going up as fast as we want,” he said. “But in my job, I’m traveling around to places with a tremendous amount of activity among innovators and investors coming together and starting new companies and new services. And as I look around, and see those examples, literally all over the country, I come away optimistic about employment opportunities and growth prospects.”

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