Tag Archives: Midwest

The Rise of the Contract Worker

May 16, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Omaha’s slogan is “We Don’t Coast,” but we do…at least in one respect.

Employees in Midwestern cities like Omaha are less likely to work side gigs than are their counterparts elsewhere in the United States, and they’re among the least likely in the country to have changed jobs in the last two years.

Still, 15 percent of Midwestern employees surveyed in late 2017 for an NPR/Marist poll indicated that they identify as contract workers—those hired guns brought on to complete a specific project, or for a specific period of time.

While lower than the rate of 21-23 percent of workers who identified as such in other regions and the 20 percent figure nationally, that number is changing how employers hire, what they offer prospective employees in the way of benefits, and, some local experts say, how or if they can grow their businesses.

Erin Isenhart enjoys working as a contract employee. The sole proprietor of Yellow House Creative has spent the last five years bouncing from one contract to the next. 

She says one client, Joe Pittman of Omaha-based Creative Association Management, has asked “many times” about coming to work for his organization, which works with various industry associations. But Isenhart says she prefers the flexibility of building on her existing relationship with Pittman and his clients, for which she manages projects like social media marketing, website maintenance and creation, and event planning. She also says her decision to stay independent is a form of mitigating the risk of something like an unexpected layoff—a fate she’s experienced too many times already.

“I could just work full-time for him, but as a contractor, you don’t want all your eggs in one basket,” Isenhart says.

Contractual work may also be a plus for many companies. In late March, Virginia Kiviranta of My Staff said she could hardly believe the volume of contractors in the Omaha office of a 300-employee government services client.

“They had 50 contractors on site and that’s the most I’ve ever seen them have,” said Kiviranta, who is a partner with Brad Jones at the Omaha-based staffing company. “I don’t know where they’re putting everyone. I didn’t think they have that much space.”

Government contracting by nature is project-driven, but step back and consider the tight labor market in general: Midwestern companies, on average, took nearly 32 days to fill an opening in January, according to the latest data from New York-based DHI Group Inc. The company uses data from its careers website combined with federal jobs data to derive a picture of about how long it takes to fill a job opening. Its time-to-hire index in January was more than double the duration of the same period in January 2009, when the recession was ravaging the economy and employers were slashing workforces.

A press release from Stanford University’s Hoover Institution states that, “Many vacancy postings for skill-intensive jobs draw few applicants, in line with employer claims that talent is scarce. Yet the typical jobseeker competes with many, many rivals for desired jobs. The upshot is that labor markets are both tight (for employers) and slack (for workers) at the same time.”

In other words, that means current conditions are indicative of a job-hunter’s market—especially for one with desirable skills. And that can pose a problem for a company trying to hire top talent.

“A lot of small businesses just don’t have a huge office, they don’t have a place to put everybody, and that’s costly,” says Isenhart. “Then when it comes to paying for insurance and any of the different benefits, it’s just not in their budget.”

Todd Murphy, CEO of Universal Information Services, takes a different view.

“The gig economy, and its related employees, is great in that it allows employers to use a flexible work force,” Murphy says. “The downside is that if you need ongoing support from someone, they may be busy on another project. I’ve also seen a person go from working gigs to being a full-time employee. This can have the same outcome in that they become unavailable for continued support or development.”

So, with a tight labor market for employers, local staffing professionals say a combination of contractors and temp-to-hire employees may be a good approach for staffing solutions.

“For the temp employees we put out to our clients, if there is a longer-term need than just a short three-to-six-month project, those [temp] individuals are the frontrunners to take those positions,” says Josh Boesch, shareholder at Lutz Talent, which specializes in finding employees for the accounting and finance industries. “The temporary employees oftentimes are performing working interviews, whereas a typical applicant or candidate for a job may only get an hour or a half hour to attempt to impress the hiring manager.”

Brian Smith spent almost a decade in retail banking before focusing on marketing; now, he works on a contract basis with political candidates and corporate clients as a consultant. Unlike Isenhart or other industry-specific contractors, he says he’s on a more fluid course and is currently angling to work with municipalities on urban innovation initiatives.

And with the right combination of contract work and flexibility, he may well reach his goal.


This article was printed in the June/July 2018 edition of B2B. 

Erin Isenhart

Where Pink Pigeons Fly

May 3, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Coming from a very artistic family, Gabi Quiroz’s parents always encouraged her creative endeavors. Her mother taught her to shade, her father used to draw, her grandmother quilts, and she has an aunt who draws and writes.

After being raised in such an environment, full of inspiration and creative energy, it’s no wonder Gabi became the artist she is today.

But her upbringing also fed another passion—animals. Growing up an only child, Quiroz was never lonely with all her animal siblings keeping her company.

“We started off with one dog and then it kind of became a zoo,” she says. “From there—fish, guinea pigs, hamsters, a cat, and another dog.”

After leaving the nest, Quiroz couldn’t imagine life without animals. Today, she has three cats, a miniature pinscher named Bella, and Wilbur, a potbelly pig, who will be 3 years old this May.

Quiroz loves all animals, but especially pigeons. That admiration is evidenced by the name of her business, Pink Pigeon Studio.

“I’ve always admired pigeons for how beautiful they are, but they’re always commonly referred to as rats that can fly,” she says. “Pink Pigeon is about recognizing the beauty in something that isn’t usually considered beautiful.”

Finding beauty in the unusual is evident in her work. Quiroz begins her creative process looking up the symbolism she wants to convey in multiple references, and then constructs the scene to take her source pictures for the piece she’s creating in a series, which normally consists of 10 pieces.  

From there, she works in her two primary disciplines—oil paints and colored pencils—to develop works of symbolic imagery and figurative study. Her pencil drawings are intricate and hyperrealistic while her paintings tend to be more fluid, yet both are always rooted in nature.

Life and death symbolism is ever-present in Quiroz’s pieces. She considers herself a spiritual person and believes in the afterlife. In her current series, she’s using local flora, such as peonies and poppies, along with animals bones found in the Midwest.

At her Hot Shops studio, you’ll find Quiroz pouring her inspiration into her creations while drinking coffee and, depending on the day, listening to an audiobook, music, or watching a movie she’s seen a million times. She loves the challenge of making something out of nothing, but admits being an artist is hard.

In the next couple of years, her goals are producing four pieces a month and having her work show in regional and national galleries. Quiroz also one day aspires to teach art on the collegiate level, and ultimately, she wants to have a stand-alone studio and a couple acres of land for a farmstead of her own, with lots of animals.

“If I were to work just when I felt inspired, this would be a hobby for me,” she says. “The artist stereotype that we lah-tee-dah all day and create something is wrong because most of the time, it’s not like that.”

On those especially trying days, she brings Wilbur to the studio and stops for cuddle breaks.


See more of the artist’s work at gabriellequiroz.com.

This article appears in the May/June 2018 edition of Encounter.

Omaha’s Salvation for Many

December 13, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The Salvation Army is certainly a legacy in Omaha, having started around 1912, two years before World War I began. The international organization was founded in London in 1865.

Fast forward through a Great Depression, a second world war, a Cold War, and the advent of computers and the internet. The Salvation Army’s mission has essentially remained unchanged — provide shelter to the needy, food for the hungry, and medicine for the sick.

Today, Omaha’s Salvation Army is headed by Majors Greg and Lee Ann Thompson. They both serve as divisional leaders of the Salvation Army’s western division, which includes Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota. They both came to the Salvation Army at an early age. Lee Ann’s mother, Jan Bloom, volunteered at the Salvation Army in their hometown in Minnesota, and Lee Ann attended the organization’s youth group. Greg, who was born in Omaha, was brought into the organization when he was barely a week old.

“I was carried in,“ Thompson says with a laugh.

Greg, who left Omaha with his family at age 8, met Lee Ann at a Salvation Army camp in Minneapolis in 1981. In 1999, they came to Omaha, where they were appointed divisional youth secretaries. Unlike many charitable organizations, the Salvation Army is set up in a quasi-military style of management, where positions are appointed. Many people are unaware that The Salvation Army is a Protestant church, with 11 core beliefs that align with many Christian churches. Greg’s parents, Paul and Alma Thompson, were members of the church. This is why employees tend to view their roles as vocations instead of jobs.

“God called us to be Salvation Army officers,“  says Greg.

Having a presence in three different centuries, The Salvation Army has dispatched volunteers to victims of floods, fires, and tornadoes since its founding. Throughout the past 20 years, the organization has shifted some of their resources to address more contemporary issues. Funding and personnel for teen pregnancy services has been reallocated to mental health and human trafficking. For human trafficking, law enforcement routinely reach out to The Salvation Army’s case workers to help victims.

“I-80 is a massive corridor for [human trafficking]. And people think it’s not real, but it is. It’s very, very real,“ Thompson says.

Local and national investigations into organizations like The Red Cross and Goodwill have put greater attention to how organizations spend donation dollars. Forbes magazine ranked The Salvation Army as the fourth largest charity in the United States, with a total revenue of almost $3 billion. Nationally, it’s estimated that 82 cents out of every dollar donated to the Salvation Army goes directly toward relief campaigns (the other 18 cents are dedicated to salaries and other overhead expenses).

The percentage is even higher in Omaha, says Susan Eustice, divisional director of public relations and communications. Eustice says Omaha’s figure is closer to 87 cents out of every dollar. This figure is determined by subtracting Omaha’s actual program expenses (including salaries) from the end of year revenue The Salvation Army generates.

Some of the funds have been used to modernize The Salvation Army’s presence in Omaha. One major campaign includes rebuilding their campus at 36th and Cuming streets. A second includes doubling their capacity for the mental health respite program.

“Everything we do emanates from our belief that God has called us to help mankind,“ Lee Ann says.

Visit salarmyomaha.org for more information.

This article published in the Fall 2017 edition of B2B.

From left: Lee Ann and Greg Thompson.

Big Omaha

May 24, 2017 by
Photography by Big Omaha

Rewind to May 8, 2009, and you will find a community of 400-plus graphic designers, entrepreneurs, creatives, developers, small business owners, and even a handful of investors seated in tidy rows at KANEKO in the Old Market. It was a first-of-its-kind conference for Omaha.

Many of these people knew of this event through casual conversations—mostly on Twitter—about a little-known conference coming to town called “Big Omaha.” It was the brainchild and second-born of friends Jeff Slobotski and Dusty Davidson (the previous year’s Silicon Prairie News being their firstborn). The two recognized a movement and a simmering energy surrounding the local tech community. It was a cadre of women and men who decided start-up and tech success could happen not on the West Coast but in their own backyards.

The inaugural Big Omaha sold out 10 days prior to the conference. The energy it created has sustained these past eight years. The result? Omaha is now a destination for start-ups seeking new ideas, new energy, and even new money in the form of investors.

“Big Omaha provides inspiration for people to start something,” explains Brian Lee of AIM, a not-for-profit organization that promotes technology to empower people, enhance organizations, and create brilliant communities. Lee serves as managing director of Big Omaha and Silicon Prairie News.

Two years ago, Big Omaha and Silicon Prairie News were acquired by AIM. Although the ownership structure has changed, the Big Omaha experience remains true to what Slobotski and Davidson created with the first conference in 2009.

“Big Omaha has had a huge impact on our community,” Lee says. “It is part of a larger movement in the past eight years that started with Big Omaha.”

Now the conference welcomes a sold-out audience of 700 attendees with guest speakers in a range of tech- and entrepreneurial-based industries who have crisscrossed the globe. When the speakers take the stage, the majority are candid about their successes and their failures, which they are encouraged to share in engaging, meaningful, transparent, and memorable ways.

“We ask our speakers to address overcoming challenges, which helps our audience find inspiration,” Lee says. “In the Midwest, we appreciate authenticity. Hearing those struggles helps a lot.”

Part of the splash of Big Omaha’s first conference in 2009 was its clever cow branding, developed by Omaha-based Oxide Design Co. The cow visuals have remained, although design duties changed hands in 2015 from Oxide to Grain & Mortar.

Now that Big Omaha is owned and operated by AIM, its goal is to cover costs through sponsorships and ticket sales, Lee says.

The conference continues to be a hot event. Tickets that cost as much as $599 are scooped up annually by local, national, and even international attendees.

Big Omaha could move to a larger venue, selling more tickets and earning more revenue. But Lee says from his vantage point, the Big Omaha culture isn’t about a bottom line.

“Our goal is not to outgrow KANEKO. We want to preserve the charm and the experience (of Big Omaha) for as long as we can.”

Part of this charm is the togetherness. Everyone who attends Big Omaha hears the same speakers in the same order. Speakers are encouraged to remain the entire two days of the conference, immersing themselves in the experience and networking with Big Omaha ticket-holders. (The pre-party and post-party have become a popular part of the two-day conference.)

Graphic design, architecture, tech innovation, and entrepreneurship ideas abound here. UNL architecture students provided an art installation in 2016, and a guest speaker in 2015 and 2017 was fashion entrepreneur Mona Bijoor, a favorite among the fashion designers and fashionistas
in attendance.

The conference’s first row is filled with familiar faces each year. One of them is Megan Hunt of Omaha, who has attended every single Big Omaha since 2009.

“I remember the incredible momentum that had built up in the Midwest startup community for this event,” Hunt recalls. “The desire we all had for a space to come together, share the work we were doing, and learn from the superstars in our field was palpable. The way that Dusty and Jeff harnessed that energy and built Omaha’s reputation as a hub of entrepreneurship is nothing short of legendary.”

Hunt has owned a web-based bridal design company, a co-working space, and, most recently, a web-based clothing retailer known as Hello Holiday that also boasts a very visual storefront in the heart of Dundee.

“I love going to Big Omaha because, for me, running a business is not just dollars and cents and strategy around growth,” Hunt adds. “It takes a lot of creativity and ingenuity. Big Omaha is my favorite conference because they do understand this so well, emphasizing how interdisciplinary business and technology can be, and welcoming artists, musicians, designers, and writers—people who may normally be in the minority at
other conferences.”

Big Omaha 2017

Big Omaha returned to KANEKO for the ninth consecutive year May 18 and 19. Below is the lineup of speakers.

Joe Ariel, co-founder and CEO of Goldbely

Mona Bijoor, managing partner at King Circle Capital and founder of JOOR

Christina Brodbeck, founding partner at Rivet Ventures

Daniel Burka, design partner at GV, formerly Google Ventures

Shirley Chung, chef and owner at Steamers Co.

Baldwin Cunningham, vice president of strategy at Brit + Co., co-founder of Partnered

Diana Goodwin, founder and CEO of AquaMobile

Alex Klein, co-founder and CEO of Kano Computing

Brandon Levy, co-founder and CEO of Stitch Labs

Mitch Lowe, co-founder of Netflix, CEO of MoviePass

Margenette Moore-Roberts, global head of inclusive diversity at Yahoo

Nish Nadaraja, former Yelp brand director, partner at Rich Kid Cool

Brian Neider, a partner at Lead Edge Capital

Vanessa Torrivilla, co-founder and creative director of Goldbely

Shandra Woworuntu, founder of Mentari

Matt Zeiler, founder and CEO of Clarifai

Visit bigomaha.co for more information.

Big Omaha participants try virtual reality goggles at a previous year’s event.

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

Home Opener

April 27, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

I have written frequently about growing up in small-town Iowa. My father farmed for 30 years, and his parents farmed. I have always felt the nostalgia of this lifestyle, and I knew a rural setting was exactly what I wanted to show my early spring project.

Driving the highway outside of Papillion, I often went past this beautiful farm, now up for sale, which has lots of rustic charm. Sadly, many of these old earthy buildings are falling into disrepair, but they always have their own story. This one was no exception.

I stepped out of the car and walked along the gravel driveway, past what resembled overgrown peonies and lilac bushes, toward a massive 100-year-old barn. Hints of white paint still remained in spots. The barn had the sort of time-worn character that is impossible to recreate.

Hal Timm, I came to learn, is the great-grandson of the original owners. His great-grandmother purchased this farm in 1912 with the intent to expand the family homestead and keep the adult children close by. With his blessing, we shot my May/June DIY project here.

As Mr. Timm was packing some of the final belongings from the house, we were finishing up the photos. He thanked me for coming and said that he imagined his grandfather and grandmother may have danced on the farm as newlyweds when it became theirs in the early 1900s. He also stated that seeing our photo shoot seemed like an appropriate bookend for the era—he said it made him smile watching us.

Speaking of legacies, this issue features Chiodo Palace near 25th and Leavenworth streets, built in 1922 by Vincenzo Pietro Chiodo. Current homeowners Barry Burt and Michael Heaton have worked diligently to preserve the legacy of this unique, storied home.

But if your taste happens to be the look and feel of sunny California, take a peek at Marian Holden’s Transformations. This local ASID interior designer used a palette of soft sand colors and soothing blues and greens in this stunning makeover. The McCreas wanted to bring a bit of Palm Springs to the Midwest.

I hope you enjoy the issue!

Sandy Matson is the contributing editor for Omaha Home.

Quail Run Discusses Regional Jumping Climate

March 4, 2017 by
Photography by Contributed

This article appears in the program book for the FEI World Cup Finals, produced by Omaha Magazine in March 2017.

Omaha’s equestrian community has made gains over the past several years to better explain and show the beauty of horse jumping and English riding to the area’s general public while also making strides, regionally and nationally, with riders, owners, and exhibitors.  In short, it’s an exciting time to be a horseman or horsewoman in Nebraska’s largest city.

Patrice Urban

Patrice Urban has a healthy, long-view perspective.  She and her husband have owned and operated the Quail Run Horse Centre jumping/training facility near 220th Street and West Maple Road for three decades.  And while, she says, the FEI World CupTM Finals is exciting—in her words “huge”—the work leading up to earning that event has been important, as well.  Thanks to the work of the Omaha Equestrian Foundation, Omaha hosted its first U.S. five-star jumping competition in the region, the International, in 2012.  The International has been held annually since then. The application for the 2017 FEI World CupTM Finals, characterized as a “longshot” bid on the OEF website, was submitted four years ago.  Event organizers in Omaha during the past few years have learned how to make a great show for everyone—participants, horse community members, and the public, she says, and people who come to the FEI World CupTM from beyond the area are going to be pleased.

“They’re going to come because it’s the World Cup, but what’s more important to Omaha is they’re coming to see Omaha,” Urban adds.  She says that she has been educating people about Omaha whenever questions come up about this year’s FEI World CupTM Finals.  Omaha is the first new city selected for the event in a decade.

“We’re in the niche in the United States in the equestrian world that we really don’t exist very much,” Urban says.  “So for them to be able to come to the Midwest and experience our hospitality and what we have to offer is a new adventure for them.”

Dan Urban, Patrice’s 32-year-old son, has grown up in the area’s horse community and says he would enjoy seeing more people get excited about his sport.  He serves as a trainer, instructor, and co-owner at Quail Run. 

“When you’re watching a grand prix like that it’s suspenseful.  It’s exciting. You kind of sit on the edge of your seat when they’re in the speed phase and they’re trying to beat the clock and the rider before them,” Dan says.

Over the past five years, he and his two brothers have been organizing horse competitions, as well, to add onto the horse centre’s teaching and boarding business.

“I want people to know that they’re going to see the top of the top (at the World Cup), but anyone can do this,” he says.  Separate from the International, Quail Run now runs five weeks of competitions.  Prior to offering an Omaha-based riding event, the nearest competitions were in Kansas City, Des Moines, or Colorado.  The recession of 2008 highlighted a need.  Shipping a horse to a horse show in St. Louis costs more than $700, Patrice says. 

“When the gas prices went crazy, shipping went crazy,” she says.  In 2008, the buying and selling of horses in the area took a hit, as well, but teaching riding was a constant.

“Our lessons didn’t take a hit at all. We are very consistent with what we teach and we are always busy,” Patrice says.  “Sometimes we have four instructors teaching at the same time out there.”

“People (after the start of the recession) didn’t want to travel anymore,” Dan says. “They didn’t want to pay to put their horses on a trailer when the nearest venue was four, five, six hours away.”

During the past few years, Quail Run added three outdoor riding arenas and a stabling barn with the competitions in mind.  The facility has 45 stalls and conducts 300 to 450 riding lessons a month. The horse shows typically bring in 95 to 125 horses and are now attracting riders and owners from around the region in their own right. 

Patrice says the OEF’s focus on bringing in spectators to its large events has been important.  Family friendly educational displays, demonstrations, and more have made kids love the International, she says. Dan says he would like to see a lasting economic impact for the metropolitan horse community because of the FEI World CupTM Finals Omaha 2017.   

“It’s here. It’s not some, like, event to put up on a showcase that’s unattainable for people,” he says. “We do this right here in Omaha, and anyone’s invited.”

Year of the Rooster

December 23, 2016 by
Illustration by Matt Wieczorek

Chinese Lunar New Year falls on January 28 this year. The holiday is like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s all rolled into a week of celebrations. This year will be my third Lunar New Year in Omaha. Since relocating to the Midwest, I have developed a small go-to list for dishes that taste like home (or at least satiate my appetite until my next return visit to Hong Kong).

When coworkers ask me to recommend “real” Chinese food, I often probe how adventurous they are with eating. Authentic Chinese cuisines do not usually come with a thick brown or red sauce. Sometimes, signature dishes also feature uncommon ingredients. Although I never fancied chicken feet, I know several European Americans who will gobble down the dish (which translates to “phoenix talons” in my native Cantonese language) at any opportunity.

Chinese cuisines vary depending on region. Sichuanese (from western China) is known for its “mala” numbing spice. Cantonese (from Hong Kong and Guangdong) is famous for fresh seafood and dim sum. Dumplings, maybe even more than rice, are beloved in northern Chinese cuisines. You might even say Americanized Chinese food is authentic in its own way, with its distinct flavors and history woven into the story of Chinese migration.

1. Fresh housemade dim sum

I was excited to see barbecue pork and duck hanging on display upon entering Canton House Restaurant during my first visit; the Cantonese diner reminds me of the typical Hong Kong-style café (also known as a “cha chaan teng”). The chef started his career in Hong Kong decades ago and has brought a long list of authentic Hong Kong dishes to his restaurant in northwestern Omaha. Dim sum—bite-size breakfast hors d’oeuvres—are freshly made to order; I highly recommend ordering a variety and enjoying them with a group of friends. Stuffed eggplant, fish slices in congee (rice porridge), and sliced beef with pan-fried rice noodles are among my top three choices.

4849 N. 90th St., No. 1, Omaha, NE 68134

402-505-9446

cantonhouseomaha.com

2. Savory Shandong cuisine

Tucked in the corner of a strip mall on 72nd Street, Blue and Fly Asian Kitchen is a homey eatery that is crowded with Chinese students every night. The traditional Chinese menu features a range of quick-fried and fish dishes that are iconic of Shandong cuisine. A bilingual handwritten menu beside the kitchen offers a further selection of seasonal delicacies. The owners are generous in sharing their cultural heritage with patrons; for example, in the last Mid-Autumn Festival, they gave out handmade “mooncakes” to diners to share celebration of the Chinese holiday. I have yet to order anything I do not enjoy at Blue and Fly (and I am definitely a frequent patron). My personal favorites include spicy shredded potato (a cold appetizer), spicy pig intestine (an entrée), and a specialty dessert—caramelized sweet potato.

721 S. 72nd St., Omaha, NE 68114

402-504-6545

blueflyasiankitchen.com

3. Cantonese-style barbecue duck and barbecue pork buns

Order a Cantonese-style duck (half) to go with a bowl of rice, and you will get an authentic Hong Kong lunch experience. Grand Fortune Chinese Restaurant also has an extensive dim sum menu—the baked barbecue pork pastry and baked barbecue pork bun are must-tries as you may only find the steamed version in other dim sum shops in town. Steamed barbecue pork buns are known as “cha siu bao” in Cantonese. Cha siu bao, pork and shrimp dumplings (“siu mai”), and shrimp dumplings (“har gow”) are regular fixtures of dim sum brunch anywhere in the world.

17330 West Center Road, Omaha, NE 68130

402-697-9888

grandfortunecuisine.com

4. Dim sum brunch after church

New Gold Mountain is crowded with families after church on Sundays. The restaurant has an intimate atmosphere. Its fried items—such as salt and pepper shrimp, deep-fried minced pork shrimp dumplings, and crispy fried tofu are all finger-licking good. Meat lovers can try barbecue pork with five spiced beef. The meat platter is a common dinner staple in Hong Kong, and is best enjoyed with a bowl of rice and some stir-fried vegetables.

15505 Ruggles St. No.105, Omaha, NE 68116.

402-496-1688

newgoldmountain.com

5. Mouthwatering tofu dishes

People may not associate Three Happiness Express with authentic Chinese food. But its kung pao tofu is a good representation of Chinese cooking. The tofu is perfectly fried to form a crispy crust; the dish is not drowned, rather it is drizzled with a light brown sauce. The restaurant’s steamed dumplings are also authentic, as long as you skip the sweet and spicy sauce and dip it in soy sauce. Friends from the neighborhood have professed a deep love for the crab rangoons, Princess Chicken, and Loc’s Chicken Wings (and these dishes are definitely American Chinese inventions).

5107 Leavenworth St., Omaha, NE 68106

402-558-8899

facebook.com/threehappinessexpress

6. Classic American Chinese food

Golden Palace has an old-school menu and an Oriental interior design that suggest the restaurant has been passed down through generations. The restaurant serves polished classic American Chinese food. The barbecue back ribs are the absolute bomb.

4040 N. 132nd St., Omaha, NE 68164

402-493-2777

goldenpalacene.com

7. Unlock the secret menu 

The “secret menu” of Jade Palace offers authentic Chinese cuisines. Even if you don’t read Chinese, pick a protein and ask the server what he/she recommends. The owner suggested we try “water boiled fish”—beware though, the Sichuanese dish is cooked with a lot of red hot chili peppers. The heat index of the fish is a challenge (southerners, like me, are not known for eating spicy). Be sure to discuss the level of spiciness before ordering.

1702 Galvin Road South, Bellevue, NE 68005

402-558-8899

jadepalacebellevue.com

8. Hot pot special

China Garden Restaurant has a winter hot pot special. The communal dish is popular in colder months. Select meats and vegetables from a list, and the server will bring a pot of broth and a portable stove for you to cook the food in. The restaurant offers most of the favorites of Sichuanese cuisine. To drink, ask the server if sweet-sour plum juice is available. Other thirst-quenching options include Tsingtao beer and canned Chinese herbal tea, “Wong Lo Kat.”

8315 Tangier Way, Omaha, NE 68124

402-397-1995

chinagardenomaha.com

9. Fusion Chinese food

P.F. Chang’s modern take on Chinese food results in a range of light, savory fusion cuisine. I highly recommend the chicken lettuce wrap.

Westroads Mall, 10150 California St., Omaha, NE 68114

402-390-6021

pfchangs.com

10. Oldest Chinese restaurant in town

The interior design of King Fong Cafe resembles that of Chinese courtyard houses. The wood carvings and chandeliers (imported from Canton, the old name of Guangzhou) are well-preserved—the visual enjoyment is a feast in itself. The restaurant is not only the oldest Chinese restaurant in town, it is the longest-running restaurant in the city.

315 1/2 S. 16th St., Omaha, NE 68102

402-341-3433

facebook.com/pages/king-fong-cafe/117861274906131

* Note: King Fong Cafe announced its temporary closure in 2016 and had not announced a reopening date at the time of Omaha Magazine‘s publication deadline.

Another great way to discover new dishes is to ask the server what Chinese customers have ordered. If something looks delicious at another table, ask your server what it is. For anyone looking to celebrate the Lunar New Year with a Chinese feast, please note that restaurants may close during the festival, so check ahead to confirm if they are open.

Authenticity aside, I absolutely love when fortune cookies arrive with the bill. The American Chinese invention (or American Japanese, depending on the origin story) coincides with Chinese affinity for auspicious signs. Happy Lunar New Year! May your fortune cookie bring good luck!

How do you say Happy New Year in Chinese?

“Gong hei fat choi!” That’s Cantonese (the language of Hong Kong and Guangdong).

“Xin nian kuai le!” That’s Mandarin (the official language of mainland China and Taiwan)

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…and for a preview of the 2017 Nebraska Chinese Association Lunar New Year Celebration:

Omaha Defies “Housing Trilemma” Trade-Off

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If the top 100 cities in the U.S. comprise a family awash in drama and competition, then Omaha is the kid sibling everyone keeps forgetting about. When discussed at the national dinner table (if at all), Omaha is misconstrued, underestimated, and blamed for things that are probably Portland’s fault. “Why can’t you be sunny and fun like your coastal brothers and sisters? Oh, ‘you don’t coast’? That’s your excuse for everything.”

But the national report cards keep coming back aglitter with praise. They say: Omaha has a great future, America. Heck, it could be president someday.

The latest batch of good news comes from, of all places, the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis. In a June report, economist Josh Lehner sought to answer the question of whether a city can boast affordable housing, lots of available jobs, and a high quality of life? His hypothesis was, essentially, “nope.” Cities can usually perform well on one or two measures, he found, but they can’t homer on all three. Lehner calls this “the housing trilemma.”

HousingTrilemma1Consider Austin, Texas. Austin boasts a robust job market and highly desirable quality of life. Consequently, the housing market cannot keep pace with the influx of new residents, so even a one-bedroom apartment costs a couple of body parts per month.

Omaha, however, is one of only three cities that performed solidly in all three categories of Lehner’s report.  The other two? Oklahoma City and Des Moines, Iowa.

Inspired by Lehner’s work, David Drozd, research coordinator for UNO’s Center for Public Affairs Research, looked further into the sources that Lehner used in the housing trilemma study. Drozd said that Omaha and Des Moines were pretty much the only two cities that were able to score within the top 30 on all three indicators of affordable housing, a strong economy, and a high quality of life. 

“It’s just good to see that, overall, the Midwest’s larger metros were tending to come into that sweet spot and basically achieve something that the author premised was somewhat impossible,” Drozd says.

Moreover, Drozd says there is one more crucial perk to Omaha not covered in the Oregon housing trilemma study: the factor of the city’s unusually low cost-of-living, cost-of-goods, and services. Not just the housing, everything is cheaper here.

“As people make their location decision,” Drozd says, “they often just look at the nominal salary of the job they’re looking at and don’t factor in—at least to the degree they probably should—that cost-of-living component, which tends to make the salary you see go a lot further in the Midwest.” 

What about the loss of ConAgra? Will the food giant’s departure knock Omaha out of the housing-jobs-quality of life sweet spot in future studies?

Drozd says it doesn’t help, but it might not hurt, either.

“(Losing ConAgra) takes away some of the large job base. One of the reasons Nebraska, and specifically Omaha, was able to ride out the recession pretty well was that we had the diversity in employers. On the flip side, as those people move away, that opens up some housing, so that we don’t get pinched on the housing-affordability side.”

Visit oregoneconomicanalysis.com/2016/06/08/the-housing-trilemma for more information. B2B

HousingTrilemma2

Omaha Products Show

August 26, 2013 by
Photography by Mid-America Expositions, Inc.

The largest business and industrial expo in the Midwest is returning to CenturyLink Center Omaha for its 25th biennial show Sept. 18 and 19. This year, the Omaha Products Show for business and industry, hosted by Mid-America Expositions, Inc. and sponsored by the Institute of Supply Management, celebrates its 50th year of bringing diverse products and services to one convenient location for Midwest industries.

Servicing a seven-state area, the Omaha Products Show is both a marketplace and a technical center, where suppliers and vendors are able to display products, materials, and services for area users and buyers. Over 300 exhibitors and 5,000-7,000 attendees make it one of the largest industry shows in the Midwest.

Productivity-Booth-area

Bob Mancuso, Jr., CFO at Mid-American Expositions, Inc., serves as show director. He boasts that the expo is a “win-win-win situation” for users, buyers, and sellers alike. Attendees have the opportunity to see the latest in creativity and technology, products, and services that can be used in day-to-day operations. Businesses can gain valuable exposure, connect with customers face-to-face, and generate new leads and sales.

“The core of the show is the machinery and the manufacturing,” Mancuso says, “but in the last 10 to 15 years, there are companies that have come into the market with more business-to-business products, and deal with technology, staffing, office products—things that companies can do for other companies that are more service-oriented. We’ve allowed those companies to get in the show and showcase what they do because they are of the business-to-business nature.”

Construction and trucking equipment are standard fare at the expo, as are machine tools and engineering equipment. However, the show also features some unusual products, the most intriguing being robotics. In the past, the Omaha Police Department showcased their robotic equipment, and robotic cars have made an appearance. Returning again this year is the Braas Company, which uses robotics in its automation solutions equipment.

“You can actually see it flip dice, move the dice, pick them back up, and then re-throw them,” explains Mancuso. “It’s quite fascinating to watch.”

BRAAS-Booth-area

With all the massive, heavy, and quite expensive machinery coming in and out of the showcase, Mancuso admits that the wide diversity of equipment poses logistical challenges. The show provides riggers, forklifts, and move-in and move-out personnel to help companies meet these challenges.

“It’s amazing to see how this heavy equipment can get off a truck and be carried by two, sometimes three forklifts depending on the equipment, to move it into place. It can be very interesting to see everything happen,” Mancuso says.

The Products Show officially opens at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 18 with the Opening Luncheon. The show opens at 1 p.m. and continues until 7 p.m. It will resume on Thursday, Sept. 19, at 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Breakfast and lunch will be served. The day will include speakers presenting on various topics of value to the business and industry professionals.

Style and Substance

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Nick Hudson first helped found Omaha Fashion Week (OFW) back in 2008, he says some people thought it was a bit of a joke. Six years later, no one’s laughing. During the first year, about 2,000 people attended the event to see creations by 12 designers; by the end of this year, 51 designers will have shown their work, with an estimated 8,000 people attending—and the event just keeps getting bigger and better.

Unlike fashion weeks in New York, London, and Paris, OFW isn’t just about all things sartorial. It serves as a platform for up-and-coming designers to learn about the fashion industry and introduce their creations to the public, all without having to pay a fee to participate. “A lot of designers come from wealthy backgrounds,” says Hudson. “[Making it in this industry] requires resources. The vast majority of our designers, though, come from limited means and challenging economic backgrounds. [With OFW], there’s no financial barrier.”

To this end, Hudson founded the Fashion Institute Midwest, a program that helps designers learn about all aspects of the fashion industry from developing their lines to getting them to the public. Designers apply online, specifying what they’d like to focus on and what they hope to get out of the program. Some want to enhance their opportunities for getting into top design schools; others hope to build their businesses.

Designer Joi Katskee upcycles items into new rock-n-roll pieces.

Designer Joi Katskee upcycles items into new rock-n-roll pieces.

Typically, 70-90 designers apply annually with 40-50 making the cut. The designers are all from the Midwest, coming from states like Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri. Ages range from as young as 13 to those in their early 30s. A selection panel consisting of nine fashion industry experts interviews the applicants. “Mainly, people audition to be a part of the show,” Hudson explains. Brook Hudson (Nick’s wife), who manages OFW’s day-to-day operations, adds, “The cool thing about the interviews is that the panel doesn’t just decide. We give the designers feedback on how to sharpen their focus and ideas. It’s a conversation.”

From there, designers work with OFW’s team of volunteer mentors to learn about the fashion industry. They receive expert advice on subjects such as where to get fabric, how best to show off designs, and how to pitch and promote their lines. They also participate in workshops or roundtable discussions focusing on topics like doing consumer research and how to broaden their appeal for retail markets. This forms the core of the program. “What people don’t realize,” Hudson points out, “is that there is constant mentoring and support taking place throughout the year behind the scenes.”

Rick Carey and David Scott (“The Style Guys”), Omaha fashion stylists and hair and makeup legends who have worked at fashion shows in New York, Paris, and Miami and at international photo shoots, became involved as panelists and designer mentors this past February. “The mentoring program is amazing. We help the designers get their collections together so [they] look fantastic,” explains Carey. “As Tim Gunn of Project Runway fame says, our job is to help the designers ‘make it work.’”

Designer Elda Doamekpo’s Elle brand is inspired by the movement of water.

Designer Elda Doamekpo’s Elle brand is inspired by the movement of water.

Scott adds, “From those original sketches on a piece of paper, no one realizes where designers go from there. You have to find the perfect seamstress who can sew that perfect zipper or perfect hook, someone who knows how to work with a specific type of fabric. We’re very much into the total look.”

Another critical component is finding the perfect models to showcase the collections. Alyssa Dilts, director of Develop Model Management, does the casting calls for OFW and works with designers to select models. “I compile the list, and the designers have a week to select [their models],” says Dilts, who has done some professional modeling herself. “I then finagle the schedule for them to coordinate and make sure the models are available.”

Equally important are all the other volunteers who make OFW possible. “The public has no clue about what’s involved,” says Scott. “They really don’t realize how many people it takes to put it on.”

Designer Hollie Hanash designs upscale children’s clothes.

Designer Hollie Hanash designs upscale children’s clothes.

Indeed, volunteers do everything from setting up and tearing down the catwalks, marketing the event, distributing press passes and VIP bags, coordinating the action backstage, and greeting and seating guests. Makeup artists and hairstylists similarly volunteer their time and talent. “We’ve got a great community of people involved who all donate their time and expertise,” says Hudson. “It’s unheard of. It’s a huge part of why we’ve been able to grow so fast. That’s why we’re able to keep building…Because of the community.”

What’s new and exciting for OFW this August? The six-night event will take place downtown in the Capitol District (10th & Capitol streets area) in a 30,000-square-foot space composed of one tent flanked by two smaller ones and after-party courtyards featuring DJs and live bands. Designers/artists Dan Richters and Buf Reynolds are collaborating to create a large-scale art installation through which people will enter the event. “It’s the first time we’re doing it. We’re graduating to a different level,” notes Hudson.

Given all this, it’s no wonder that in just six years, OFW has emerged as one of the top fashion weeks in the Midwest, one that attracts experts and designers from around the country. “It’s more than an event,” Brook proudly points out. “We’re on the verge of creating a new industry for Omaha.

Omaha Fashion Week takes place August 19-24. Tickets range from $30-70; Saturday Finale VIP tables (for 10) can be reserved for $1,000. To purchase tickets and for more information, visit omahafashionweek.com.

OFW SCHEDULE

Monday 8/19: Children’s Wear
Tuesday 8/20: Avant-Garde
Wednesday 8/21: Ready To Wear
Thursday 8/22: Evening Wear
Friday 8/23: Men’s & Swimwear
Saturday 8/24: Grand Finale Gala