Tag Archives: Greater Omaha Chamber

Best of Omaha Soirée

October 17, 2018 by
Illustration by Matt Wieczorek

Announcement of this year’s Best of Omaha winners will take place at the Best of Omaha Soirée: A Night of the Best, on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, at the Omaha Design Center from 6-10 p.m.

Performances by Flowtricks Entertainment will astound guests throughout the evening, with OEAA-nominated DJ Shor-T setting the mood. Delectable appetizers from several Best of Omaha winners will be making the rounds, including: Attitude on Food, B&B Grill and Arcade (formerly B&B Hot Dogs), Granite City Food & Brewery, Jason’s Deli, Le Bouillon, Noli’s Pizzeria, The Omaha Bakery, Pettit’s Pastry, Ray’s Original Buffalo Wings, Scooter’s Coffee, Smitty’s Garage Burgers and Beer, and Voodoo Taco. Futuramic’s Clean Water Center will keep everyone hydrated. Cocktails, beer, and wine will be provided by Granite City Food & Brewery and Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits.

This event will feature networking with hundreds of fellow winners, business owners, and managers, in a magical setting with endless engaging entertainment. Attendees will include the Best of Omaha winners, Best Doctors, Best Lawyers, Top Dentists, and 2018 FACES of Omaha recipients.

There will be a lot of interesting new connections to be made—everyone from Greater Omaha Chamber President David Brown to school superintendent and business ownersso come dressed for success.

VIP tickets for this event are going fast, so buy one now and you will be entertained by one of Omaha’s best local bands, eNVy. VIPs receive complimentary drinks during the VIP hour (6-7 p.m.) and valet service and two drink tokens for the main event.

General admission tickets also include two drink tokens and food samples in addition to the live, entertainment from Flowtricks. General admission ticket holders can add valet parking for an additional $10. 

Sponsorship spaces are available now, but space is limited and will be reserved on a first-come, first-serve basis. You can purchase tickets ($40 general admission, $60 VIP) at localstubs.com.

Help us spread the word. We are very excited about the 2019 Best of Omaha Soirée! If you have any questions or would like to be a sponsor, please don’t hesitate to contact me at:

Tara Spencer
Event Director
W: 402.884.2016
tara@omahamagazine.com



Blockchain

September 23, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

To industries that depend on verification as a core factor of their business, blockchain technology has much to offer, according to Erica Wassinger, co-founder of The Startup Collaborative and senior director of entrepreneurship and innovation for the Greater Omaha Chamber. B2B recently caught up with Wassinger to get her take on blockchain and its benefits to companies in Omaha and elsewhere. 

B2B: Please explain what blockchain technology is. 

Wassinger: Blockchain is a new form of the internet. The distinguishing factor between blockchain and the internet as we know it now is the fact that blockchain is not controlled by any central entity or person. It’s completely decentralized and distributed. Think of it like a public ledger that can record transactions of any type. A simple parallel might be that it can be a supply chain for just about anything, including information. When you dig deeply into the industries of Omaha, you think about our density within the supply chain. We’re home to Union Pacific, Werner Enterprises, and some of these big logistics companies. Blockchain fits really nicely into the business models of those types of companies because it allows any organization or person to verify where something is on the supply chain. 

B2B: To make use of blockchain, you have to be appropriately credentialed, digitally, right? 

Wassinger: To an extent. Businesses can operate on blockchain, any person can cooperate on it. If you want to develop on the blockchain, it does require a certain level of skill. There are very few developers. I heard one source say there are as few as 1,300 true blockchain developers in the world. 

B2B: What are those individuals doing? Developing applications for different products? 

Wassinger: Yes. They’re thinking of different use cases just like we would for the internet, where we think of how to create a web platform or an app that solves a problem. Blockchain developers are doing that same thing for blockchain use cases. 

B2B: What are some blockchain use cases?

Wassinger: You see blockchain used in the food industry with the verification of crop growth product formation. For example, if, as a consumer, I want to eat a food, and it matters to me greatly that that is a wholly organic food, I might want to go all the way back to the point at which that was planted in the soil to figure out how the crop was treated, how often was it watered, when was it harvested, where did it go, and what happened to it at the next facility.

B2B: Is supply chain verification the most popular use of blockchain?

Wassinger: Yes, at least here in the Nebraska blockchain market, whether it’s the food supply chain or the information supply chain. 

B2B: What are some local use cases for blockchain?

Wassinger: Let’s dig into the economy of Omaha. We’ve got deep density in financial services— everything from payment processing to banking to insurance. All those bases are completely ripe for blockchain technology, especially when you think about the need for authenticating things. Think about insurance, for example. Wouldn’t it be great if, upon buying a new policy, you could record every transaction very simply? That’s happening now with certain insurance companies. They’re testing that, and some are live right now. You can also look outside financial services and into the food industry. There’s a startup we are working with called BlockEra that’s working on an ingredient-to-table verification process. You can also think supply chain logistics. For example, if I am Union Pacific and I want to watch my train go from here to there, and I want to know what freight was loaded, when it was unloaded, and all of the details of that experience, blockchain becomes very relevant. 

B2B: What about an international use case? 

Wassinger: The United Nations, which works with massive refugee populations, has a really interesting blockchain use case. As a refugee, your anonymity is important to you—the ability to transact in any environment is important. You also fully expect to have a physical wallet on you to carry cash. You’re going to be crossing borders and deal with this, that, or the other. So the United Nations looked at that. We can respect these people’s anonymity through leveraging the block chain by giving refugees tokens that will allow them to transact across any border. As they reach certain points in their journey, we can make sure that they have enough tokens to fuel that piece of their journey. 

B2B: The technology sounds great. How does anybody make money from it? 

Wassinger: A lot of people are still trying to figure all of this out. Because the transactions are happening on blockchain, they require use of cryptocurrency. When you hear “cryptocurrency,” a lot of people are going to initially think of bitcoin. But there are several others that come up, Ether being one. Ether is the cryptocurrency of choice for the Ethereum blockchain. Ethereum is an open- source blockchain that is hinged around the idea of a smart contract, which is a really transparent way of two entities agreeing on a value for something and then recording that agreement
transaction together. 

B2B: Is there anything you’d like to add? 

Wassinger: I think about Omaha and the talent pools we have here. I keep coming back to this: we’ve got really a strong agribusiness talent pool, we’ve got a really strong talent pool in supply chain and logistics, and we’ve got an incredibly dense and strong talent pool as it relates to financial services, insurance, and payment processing. I think our region needs to embrace blockchain. We need more people in the core industries where blockchain stands to be a major disruptive source to test and dabble and experiment earlier with the technology to look at it and say what levels of verification need to happen in those industries. I would love to see that embraced because I firmly believe that blockchain will be very important to the future of Omaha’s economy.


Visit blockgeeks.com for more information about blockchain.

This article was printed in the August/September 2018 edition of B2B.

Erica Wassinger, co-founder of The Startup Collaborative and senior director of entrepreneurship and innovation for the Greater Omaha Chamber

Young and Professional

March 23, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

After graduating from Omaha Northwest High School in 2009, Ashley Rae Turner says she was happy to leave town to pursue undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“I was definitely that person in high school who thought I was never going to be in Omaha again after I left,” she says.

By 2015, she was ready to return. Coming back, however, was contingent upon finding activities involving other young professionals and exploring civic opportunities for her peer group.

“If I could find a reason to stay, I would stay,” she says. “And I didn’t really want to have a mindset that, ‘this is temporary and then I’ll leave for somewhere else.’”

Realizing that several people in her peer group express similar concerns about a lack of opportunity, Turner became involved in community engagement through Urban League of Nebraska, where she joined the volunteer auxiliary group
ULN Young Professionals.

“From the very beginning I just saw an opportunity to improve Omaha for YPs [young professionals] but especially YPs of color,” Turner says.

Last year, Turner became a member of a community diversity and inclusion workgroup stemming from a joint effort of ULN and the Greater Omaha Chamber. The group aims to address key findings from a 2017 diversity and talent inclusion survey commissioned by the two organizations, including an area in which Turner has a special interest: technology and start-ups.

“It is one area I made sure was not overlooked in the survey recommendations, finding more ways to support black YP start-ups and helping them get funding,” Turner says.

Turner served as the programming co-chair for the Chamber’s 2018 YP Summit, held March 1 at CenturyLink Center.

YP Summit Chair Angel Starks says she called this year’s Summit planners “Dream Team 2018.”

“As chair, I couldn’t be more proud of my co-chairs, and especially of our programming. We enacted a speakers’ academy, we’ve done some things for our breakout speakers we’ve never done before, and I think we’ve set the tone for what’s to come,” she says. “That’s thanks to Ashley and her co-chair (Megan Flory Tommeraasen with Mutual of Omaha), specifically.”

In January, Turner also added volunteer engagement chair for the YP Council to her Chamber responsibilities.

She says she aspires to help foster a community in which YPs throughout Omaha feel welcomed, which hopefully will ultimately inspire them to become more engaged and involved. It’s all part of her mission to “be a voice for other YPs who aren’t necessarily at the table,” she says.

Last year, Turner began working for Borsheims as a content and marketing specialist, and one of the biggest contributions she’s made so far is executing a revamp of the company’s content marketing program, including establishing relationships with key influencers for future contributions and creating plans for new web features such as an education center and a lifestyle blog.

“It will be really robust content around Borsheims, around our vendors, and just around why we are the best at what we do and why you should choose Borsheims,” Turner says. “I really love social media. I love communicating and finding different ways to reach different individuals.”

In what little free time she has left, Turner also writes a food blog. And now she’s working with a partner to launch a lunchtime networking series for YPs, a channel that brings together her palette of talents and interests.

Whatever she does, Turner brings a sense of professionalism to her projects.

“It’s amazing that, although she’s involved in a lot of things, she brings quality to everything she touches,” Starks says.

This article was printed in the April/May 2018 edition of B2B.

Rachel Halbmaier

July 20, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Rachel Halbmaier is a woman with ideas, and she has the ability to convey these ideas in a way that makes people excited for what will come next. That’s why the former director of events and promotions for Lincoln’s entertainment district The Railyard is Greater Omaha Chamber’s Director of Riverfront Development for Missouri Commons. The job, which she accepted in February, is to oversee the activation of the riverfront area by increasing its usage for community events.

“I was uniquely qualified,” she admits, referencing her time in Lincoln. That position demanded that she plan and execute events while juggling the company’s social media and traditional promotions, and manage the staff of the Railyard Ice Rink and the Railyard Ambassadors.

“I have a lot I want to accomplish,” she says.

Donn Seidholz, chairman of the steering committee for Missouri Commons, revealed that more than 40 resumes from around the country were received for the position. “Clearly she was the heads-and-tails best pick,” he says. “She was absolutely the best choice for the job,” he says, adding that her “passion, excitement, and enthusiasm are infectious. We’re thrilled with Rachel.”

“We needed someone who could share the passion to activate the riverfront,” Seidholz says.

Halbmaier envisions events at the riverfront that will draw locals, and also compel people to travel here to attend. “We’re going to bring people together to make memories,” she predicted.

“I’d love to see a world-class festival down there, but I’d also like to see the space activated Monday through Friday as well. Maybe a music festival, or a food and wine festival. Or a triathlon, or a fashion show on the bridge, or maybe a pop-up dog park,” Halbmaier mused, overflowing with ideas on how to activate the available space. “I want to enhance what’s already there.”

Relationship-building is a critical part of this position, and she anticipates spending her first year connecting with community leaders and other people to understand what the riverfront can become while also fueling support for development. Growing up in Kenesaw, Nebraska, and attending school in Lincoln means that she didn’t necessarily have ample experience with the riverfront, but that is not an obstacle for her. Seidholz praises her proactive work ethic, stating, “She didn’t wait around for us to tell her what to do or who to meet.” Seidholz laughs and says that just when he thinks of someone with whom Halbmaier should meet, he finds out Halbmaier has already reached out to him or her. 

Her coming goals for the riverfront include bolstering the bond between Omaha and Council Bluffs, and “getting people down there and making them feel welcome.” Seidholz says Halbmaier can accomplish “just about anything,” and “has the full, undying support of everyone on the committee. The support has been unbelievable from Council Bluffs Mayor Matt Walsh and Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert.” This strong support, coupled with Halbmaier’s relentless drive, will most likely result in some great things to come for the riverfront.   

Visit omahachamber.org for more information.

This article was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of B2B.

David Brown

December 15, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

David Brown and the Greater Omaha Chamber are batting .1000 this year in the awards department and couldn’t be more excited.

And maybe a little superstitious.

“We’re one-for-one,” says Brown, the organization’s president and CEO. “Maybe it’s time to retire,” he adds with a laugh.

In reality, however, retirement is the farthest thing from his mind after the Omaha Chamber was chosen as the 2015 Chamber of the Year by the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE). Brown accepted the award—as well as the 2015 Chairman’s Award—last summer at the ACCE’s Annual Convention in Montreal.

Judging for the award considered organizational excellence, member services and connections, and programs/initiatives.

Among other elements, the chamber’s application highlighted its “We Don’t Coast” branding initiative, its Greater Omaha talent and workforce initiative, and the array of growth-focused services it offers, including its THRIVE business assistance program and YourBizAssist.com.

This marks the first time the Omaha Chamber has taken the steps to apply for the prestigious award—and according to Brown, who celebrated 12 years as the president and CEO this year, this recognition is a reflection of the membership and business community as well as the dedication of chamber staff.

“We’ve never applied for the award before,” Brown adds, “but we knew we had done some amazing things this year and decided to apply.” Brown was the executive director of the chamber in Greenville, S.C., before coming to Omaha. “Awards like this not only give the chamber and its membership national credibility, but they also give the city more credibility. It’s another positive step toward continuing to brand the city and change national perceptions.”

The ACCE Chamber of the Year honor is the nation’s only award recognizing the dual role chambers have in leading businesses and communities. Those honored with this designation have demonstrated organizational strength and made an impact on such vital community priorities as education, transportation, business development, and quality of life.

This year’s competition drew 33 entries from chambers throughout the U.S. To ensure the fairest competition, applicants are grouped into five categories based on annual revenue, membership, area population, and several other factors.

In accepting the award, Brown was quick to acknowledge the collaborative role that the business members play in allowing the chamber to focus on the big picture of growth, business engagement for the membership, and community.

“This award recognizes chambers that can move forward and do impressive things in the community because they don’t have to spend time putting out fires or struggling to assist members,” Brown says. “Because of this, we were able to focus on the ‘We Don’t Coast’ branding initiative, business retention and development, and successful overall execution.”

Brown’s individual Chairman’s Award is given annually to an individual or group that has made a significant contribution to the betterment of the chamber profession.

In his presentation, ACCE’s immediate past chairman Tom Baldrige detailed Brown’s commitment to the association, highlighting his role as chairman of ACCE’s Horizon Initiative Task Force. That group created the architecture of the Chambers 2025 Report, which outlines eight influences that will impact all chambers in the next decade.

“Without David’s help, wisdom, and encouragement in interpreting information and exchanging ideas, the report and the launch of the multi-year 2025 project would never have happened,” Baldrige said at the awards event.

In Brown’s view, he couldn’t have focused his time and energy toward the Horizon Initiative without the ongoing support and stability of the Omaha Chamber membership and dedicated staff alongside him.

“My name may be associated with these awards, but these are honors and recognition that everyone involved with the Omaha Chamber should be proud of because we accomplished them together,” he says. “These are both team awards shared by everyone.”

Visit omahachamber.org to learn more.

David-Brown

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D.

August 26, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., has been teaching and researching business ethics for more than 20 years. She has been professor of Business Ethics at Creighton University since 1991. But the seasoned academic holds a strong belief that ethics discussions should reach outside the classroom and into Omaha’s day-to-day business life.

She found soulmates in many of Omaha’s business leaders who shared her passion for ethics. Working together, Omaha’s business community launched the Business Ethics Alliance in 2008. The group consults, trains, and speaks on ethics.

Founding partners are the Creighton University College of Business, Greater Omaha Chamber, Better Business Bureau, and the Omaha business community. The Business Ethics Alliance isn’t just for business. The group also interacts with college and K-12 students, as well as executives, employees, and entrepreneurs.

Business Ethics Alliance programming focuses on the core values of accountability, community responsibility, integrity, financial vitality, and moral courage. As holder of the Robert B. Daugherty Endowed Chair in Business Ethics & Society, Kracher is free to work outside the classroom. She teaches one Creighton graduate class each year.

Otherwise she leads the Business Ethics Alliance as executive director and CEO, often traveling to countries worldwide.

“Words are power. One of the easiest things we can do is practice articulating our ethics.”

“I spoke in Ethiopia recently, and they said they had never conceived of a relationship between ethics and success in business,” Kracher says.

But companies considering relocating to Omaha are well aware of the relationship, according to David Brown, president and CEO of the Greater Omaha Chamber. One Illinois company, reeling from the indictment of the state’s governor, found solace in Omaha’s ethical business community.

“Another client specifically asked us to make part of our presentation about ethical practices in Omaha because they wanted a community that took ethics seriously,” says Brown. “We blew them away.”

Helping found the Business Ethics Alliance brought Kracher a great deal of satisfaction—and an award from the Greater Omaha Chamber as the 2013 Business Woman of the Year. She’s earned it, says Brown: “She has taken a fledgling organization and turned it into something unique to Omaha. It requires business acumen, as well as the ability to work with business leaders.”

Kracher said that ethical business communities have leaders with strong, shared, positive values who are fair to their workforce, give back to their communities, and have honest and accountable employees. The ethical communities have non-corrupt government and nonprofits that partner with for-profits.

She is a columnist for B2B Omaha magazine and co-authored the book Ethinary, An Ethics Dictionary: 50 Ethical Words to Add to Your Conversation. The book sits on many business professionals’ desks around the country. “Words are power,” Kracher said. “One of the easiest things we can do is practice articulating our ethics.”

Professor, researcher, author, columnist, CEO, she also is vice president of Plant Pros of Omaha, which puts her in the small-business arena.

Ethics haven’t changed over the years, she believes: “The ancient Persians used to burn bakers in their ovens for adulterating bread with straw, etc. So bad business has been around for centuries. Good has, too.”

MindMixer

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Urban planners turned entrepreneurs Nick Bowden and Nathan Preheim never got used to the slim turnouts that town hall meetings drew for civic projects under review. It bothered them that so few people weighed in on decisions affecting so many.

Preheim, 39, and Bowden, 29, also didn’t feel comfortable cast in the roles of experts who knew what was in the best interests of citizens. They felt too many good ideas went unheard in the process.

The way the Omaha natives saw it, a new approach was needed to better engage people in civic discourse and therefore help build stronger communities. “Lucky for us, urban planning is really stodgy,” says Preheim. “Technology has not really infiltrated the inherent processes within the field, so there was a great opportunity for us to integrate technology into public participation. That’s where we kind of came up with the solution to a very common problem—how do you get more people engaged and interested in talking about community betterment?

“Town halls had been and still are the primary vehicle by which cities solicit feedback. They’re hundreds of years old, and they really haven’t changed much at all. We saw an opportunity to enliven the conversation by inverting that model and empowering people to be a part of that change.”

The business partners developed a startup technology company called MindMixer (see related story on page 33) whose online platform offers a virtual front porch for ideas and opinions to be shared, noticed, and acted upon.

Nathan Preheim

Nathan Preheim

“We’ve always felt that people generally care for their community, but maybe it was an issue of convenience, not an issue of apathy, that prevented them from participating,” says co-founder and CEO Bowden. “Our founding premise is that technology can break that barrier of convenience and open up a bigger world of potential inputs.”

Co-founder and COO Preheim says, “There’s probably something I could learn from you; there’s probably something you could learn from me. We’re way smarter together than we are individually. I think some of that same mantra and guiding force influences what we’re trying to do here.”

“Our purpose is to build a stronger community by involving people in things that matter,” says Bowden. If the response from investors, clients, and everyday citizens is any indication, these visionaries have found a powerful engine to connect everyday people with local government bodies, schools, hospitals, and organizations of all kinds.

“We’ve always felt that people generally care for their community, but maybe it was an issue of convenience, not an issue of apathy, that prevented them from participating.” – Nick Bowden

Launched in 2011, MindMixer, which offices at the Mastercraft Building in North Downtown, has more than 400 clients and expects to reach 1,000 by year’s end. As of July, MindMixer had raised $6.2 million in venture capital, much of it from local investors, to develop its tool. The company’s roster of 30 employees is also expected to grow.

By digitizing the town hall, MindMixer facilitates discussions and debates for projects large and small, from rebranding the entire San Francisco public transit system to a crosswalk put in outside Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park.

Whatever the idea, whether it relates to recreation or education or health care or some other quality of life issue, people now have a 24/7 avenue to have a say in it.

Preheim notes, “We think we’re the first company that’s trying to pull this off—to unify all those different communities and allow you to sort of contribute to each of them from a single place. It’s providing opportunities for people to give back or reinvest or make a contribution. We’re a funnel, we’re a vehicle, we’re kind of giving voice to people who may not have had that before. It’s empowering, it’s uplifting.

“We are part of something, call it a new movement if you will, that’s enabling better transparency and decision-making by stakeholders who are sort of tapping into the collective wisdom of their constituents. We’re kind of in the meaningful change business. That’s exciting stuff.”

20130628_bs_2712

Nick Bowden

Validation that they’re onto something big, Preheim says, also comes in the large “number of citizen-submitted ideas that have actually been carried forward and implemented” nationwide and the sheer participation happening on sponsored MindMixer sites.

“Last year, we engaged over 800,000 participants, and those 800,000 participants submitted over 38,000 ideas,” says Preheim. “Those are empowering statistics, these are encouraging numbers.” He projects two million-plus participants to submit upwards of 100,000 ideas in 2013.

Sometimes, projects respond to urgent human needs. For example, MindMixer-supported sites which assisted citizens organizing to fight back flood waters in Fargo, N.D., as well as those rebuilding neighborhoods in tornado-ravaged Tuscaloosa, Ala.

The startup’s success earned it 2013 Innovator of the Year honors from the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and Technology Company of the Year recognition from the AIM Institute. Forbes magazine named Bowden an “up and comer.”

With the growth and attention come pressures to relocate, but Bowden and Preheim are determined to prove a tech company can make it big in Omaha. They believe there’s enough talented, smart people locally to lead the paradigm shift the company’s helping lead. MindMixer’s big aspiration is restoring the fabric of community by being the front porch of the internet, where people discuss things that matter and get involved in making positive change happen.

Follow the company’s ride at mindmixer.com. Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com

Chad Eacker

May 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As creative director and co-owner of Delinea Design in Downtown Omaha, Chad Eacker has made it his mission to pay attention to the details, whether that means working on his clients’ advertising campaigns or finding new ways to motivate Omaha’s future leaders.

In addition to overseeing his creative agency, which offers branding, graphic design, advertising, and web development services, Eacker also serves on the board of Omaha Young Professionals, a catalyst organization within the Greater Omaha Chamber whose primary goal is to retain and attract young professionals to Omaha. But how, you ask? By providing “a dynamic, inclusive, and integrated community where diverse young professionals want to live, work, and play.”

Originally from Lincoln, Neb., Eacker attended Southeast High before heading to University of Nebraska-Lincoln to study English. His original plan was to apply to law school, but as his interest in graphic design grew, his desire for law school faded. Graduating from UNL in 2007, he moved to Omaha on graduation day to embark on his business venture with fellow co-owner Matt Bross; however, it wasn’t part of his initial plan.

“I like being my own boss. I didn’t intend on starting my own business. It just kind of happened despite my better judgment.”

“It really took off, and I really enjoyed it,” Eacker says. “I didn’t expect it to. I was working retail, and it was a lot better than that. I like being my own boss. I didn’t intend on starting my own business. It just kind of happened despite my better judgment. At the beginning, I was kind of wide-eyed and stupid. There was no pressure. I was still living in my parents’ basement.”

Five years later, Delinea Design has grown, and Eacker has taken on more responsibility in the community he now calls home. This year, serving as YP’s communications chair, he played a vital role in the planning of the Young Professionals Summit, held Feb. 28 at CenturyLink Center Omaha. The YP Summit featured prominent singer and keynote speaker John Legend.

“The thing about the Young Professionals Summit…it’s broken up into so many committees. My part was really early on in the summit,” he explains. “It had been determined that the past ones had gotten kind of stale. We were asked to liven up the CenturyLink Center. Working with them, they had certain limitations for what we could and could not do. I was in charge of reimagining it. We wanted it to feel less staunch and corporate.”

With Eacker’s assistance, the 2013 YPS was a big success, and next year’s event will most likely be just as intriguing. In the meantime, Eacker can be found making coffee, enjoying premium whiskey, sporting colorful footwear, and working hard on Delinea Design’s inevitably bright future.

David Brown’s Omaha

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

David Brown did his fair share of moving around before settling in Omaha in 2003 to become president of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce. Before assuming that post, the Detroit native worked in his home state of Michigan, then in Indiana, before spending a solid decade in South Carolina.

Brown has always stayed longer than the norm for chamber professionals because he also does economic development work and that field requires long-term commitment.

“Economic development is really my first love. The part I’ve grown to love the most is [determining] what to do to improve the community so that it’s more attractive to companies and individuals to stay here or to come here,” he says. “When you do chamber work, which traditionally does not include economic development, you don’t put down as many roots as you do if you’re doing economic development, where you’re selling dirt and really learning about the community. Clients have to see you’re knowledgeable and committed.”

After 10 years down south, he and wife Maggie looked to get the youngest of their two sons settled in school. Moving to the middle of the country held great appeal.

“We wanted to get into a more positive public-education environment for Elijah, who was getting ready to go into middle school. We wanted to get back to the Midwest where our roots were,” says Brown. “Fortunately, the Omaha position was open, and I threw my hat in the ring and got the job.

“I guess what really trips my trigger is that I can point to things I’ve been involved in that have made [Omaha] a better place and given people jobs. I like making a difference, that’s really what it comes down to.”

“This is my 10th year. We’ve been here about as long as we’ve been anywhere. This is home.”

His devotion to Omaha is such that he’s influenced extended family members to make this their home as well. He enjoys working with people who share his passion for enhancing Omaha.

“There has been a collection of leadership here that seems to have in the back of their mind, ‘How do we improve this place?’ You’ve got this intentional effort to try and improve the place, married with the unbelievable generosity of the philanthropists here and the corporate support for making this a better place. You see remarkable amenities created, not to bring tourists to Omaha but to enhance the quality of life for the people who already live here. The fact that they’ve had a tourist appeal as well is just chocolate on the sundae.”

Add it all up, he says, “and that gives us a competitive advantage over other places where that kind of development and quality discussion doesn’t happen as consistently. We’ve got people who have been able to sit down and say, ‘What is it we need to be a better place?’ and then they’ve gone about the process of getting it done. It’s fascinating to see how quickly some of this stuff has occurred, like the riverfront redevelopment. There was a frenetic pace almost that took place in the ’90s that continued into the 2000s.”

For Brown, there’s nothing better than seeing projects like the CenturyLink Center Omaha or Midtown Crossing take shape.

“I guess what really trips my trigger is that I can point to things I’ve been involved in that have made [Omaha] a better place and given people jobs. I like making a difference, that’s really what it comes down to. It’s very rewarding at the end of the year to sit back and say, ‘What did we do this year?’ and know we made a measurable, demonstrable difference in the community we live in…Not just me, but the team we function with, from our volunteers to our members to our staff.”20130228_bs_7662-2_Web

Brown will be guiding the new Prosper Omaha campaign that seeks to brand the city as never before. Omaha’s aspirational spirit resonates with him and the work of the chamber.

“Omaha’s always been a business town, and the business community here plays a big role in making things happen. We’ve been fortunate as an organization that the business community has looked to the chamber to accomplish some pretty significant things, so over time, we’ve picked up some additional responsibilities. We find ourselves in things a lot of chambers don’t find themselves involved in.”

The Young Professionals Association is an example.

“We have this dynamic young professionals organization that’s involved in virtually every major community activity you can think of,” Brown says. “The management and leadership of that process has been a whole new learning experience for us. There are 5,000 young professionals who, at some point or another, have plugged into this process of making Omaha a better place. We’re mentoring and engaging [them] so they can be leaders in the future. It’s become part of our leadership agenda.”

In terms of projects, he says, the chamber is “getting deeper and deeper into things the community needs. When [then-Omaha Chamber board chair] Dick Bell said in 2004 that the chamber is going to be involved in making sure every Omahan has an opportunity to succeed and every area in Omaha has an opportunity to grow, that [declaration] got us in the community development business. We’re going to help Midtown grow, were going to help NoDo grow, we’re going to help North Omaha grow, we’re going to help South Omaha grow. That changed the way we think about economic development and the activities we’re engaged in doing community development.”

“I like change…It’s something I really embrace. If I don’t see change happening, I’m wondering if I’m doing my job.”

Brown says he likes that the Omaha Chamber not only “provides services to our members to grow their businesses, but we’re also a catalytic organization.” He adds, “That means we’re sometimes change agents. Sometimes we lead. Virtually always we’re conveners. We convene a wide diversity of people that can help solve problems. Advocacy is always a part of the agenda.”

A graduate of Dartmouth College, where he played football and baseball, Brown is a natural people person and team player. “I really like people,” he says.

He says lessons he learned playing team sports “are all things I use every day with our team here at the chamber and with the teams we build within the community,” adding, “The chamber rarely does things ourselves. We always partner with people and collaborate with others to get things accomplished, and that’s a different kind of team but a team nonetheless.”

He also likes getting things done. “I like change…It’s something I really embrace. If I don’t see change happening, I’m wondering if I’m doing my job. I like to come up with new ideas and trust my team to tell me which ones are good and which ones are bad and then see ideas come to fruition. In the end, it doesn’t matter to me who gets the credit, as long as we get stuff done. That’s the way the chamber operates and, in large measure, it’s the way Omaha operates. I think that’s one of the things that makes us unique.”

Away from the office, Brown says he enjoys golf, hunting, landscaping, and reading. Maggie is often by his side. “She’s my best friend, and we do everything together,” Brown says. “She’s been my partner in this whole career process. She’s a great saleswoman. She’s done the trade show and conference thing with me. She knows the spiel. She can pitch just like I can. She’s great with volunteers and board members.”

Keep up-to-date with Brown and the Greater Omaha Chamber at omahachamber.org.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.