Tag Archives: Omaha 2020

Planting Tech Talent

October 10, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Nicole Shobanjo is an information technology student who could be forced to move away from Omaha after she earns her computer programming degree from Metropolitan Community College.

The 38-year-old—a stay-at-home mom who operates an in-house day care business when she’s not studying—says there is a lack of IT-based careers in the greater Omaha metro.

“I don’t want to have to [go to] school here and then leave,” she says. “I feel like the market is locked down.”

Shobanjo says Metro provides opportunities for IT students with assistance in securing internships and possible jobs after graduation. She also says they pair students with tutors, counselors, and advisers. With her busy schedule, she says those resources help—especially on days when landing her dream job in Omaha feels unlikely.

However, a future tech career for Shobanjo and other hopefuls in the Omaha area is looking brighter because of an initiative called Tech Talent Growth. The long-term plan, spearheaded by the Greater Omaha Chamber and AIM Institute, calls for the metro to have at least 20,000 tech workers by 2020. AIM is a nonprofit that dedicates resources to the metro’s local tech talent through career development and educational programs.

Tech Talent Growth wants to take 500 workers from non-IT jobs and plant them into the tech industry. They want to create a population shift, moving 1,250 people from cities outside of the Omaha metro and bringing them here. According to their statistics, 2,500 tech graduates also should flow into the metro population. Keeping them here is the real challenge, says Holly Benson, tech talent manager at the chamber and AIM.

In 2015, there were about 15,700 tech jobs in the Omaha metro. Organization officials say the addition of these 4,250 jobs during the next five years could boost the Omaha metro’s economy by $1 billion.

Benson says one of the major challenges to bringing that many skilled workers to Omaha will be making the city more appealing to big name tech companies and a future workforce. With the help of area colleges, businesses, and community leaders, she says it’s a realistic goal.

Benson, who moved from Northern California to Omaha, says the city is already making great progress in providing desirable quality-of-life offerings for up-and-coming tech talent.

“Part of this project is bringing visibility to Omaha,” Benson says of the city’s future as a tech hub. “There’s a lot of opportunities at people’s fingertips. They just don’t know where to look.”

She adds Omaha doesn’t feel “saturated,” like larger cities. At her previous job, Benson commuted hours each day to work at Google.

“I really enjoy a slower pace, owning a home, and having a 15-minute commute,” she says. “Everyone is really genuine and authentic here, which is different than some of the larger markets.”

Tech Talent Growth poises to benefit local IT students such as Shobanjo, who’s already thought about moving to Dallas with her husband. Shobanjo says he has struggled to find tech work in Omaha.

It’s a simple formula—if Shobanjo can’t find IT work, her family will probably move. This is something Tech Talent Growth has acknowledged as an issue in the Omaha metro.

“There clearly is a gap in what the area is producing and the needs of the businesses,” Benson says. “I think the talent exists, but due to the demand, we need to [recruit] the tech talent.”

The group is addressing the issue with the mindset to “develop, attract, and retain talent” locally. Part of it is working with existing partners to help provide summer programs, after-school opportunities, and weekend opportunities for youths interested in technology careers. In fact, Shobanjo is one of those people, who discovered a passion for the tech field at a young age. It started with building parts of computers and customizing hardware.

“It has been in my heart since I was younger,” Shobanjo says.

Tech Talent Growth is teaming up with educational institutions, businesses, and the community to attract IT jobs with competitive salaries to ensure professional growth and attract new talent. Ideal progress would be increased enrollment in, and completion of, local university college programs. The organization wants to create a scholarship for future students and establish a one-stop online shop for youth tech opportunities. They also want to be inclusive to minorities, women, veterans, and low-income students.

Tech Talent Growth is working with K-12 schools, the University of Nebraska-Omaha, Omaha Code School, and Iowa Western Community College to inform students about local opportunities.

“It’s a community project,” Benson says. “What we’re seeing with the Silicon Prairie hat is that we’re not the first place people think of when it comes to tech.”

While keeping an emphasis on local occupations, Tech Talent Growth will help create a stronger identity in the Midwest with IT-related opportunities in Omaha.

“That’s why it’s incredibly important for us to be educating our youth at every age,” Benson emphasizes.

Visit omahachamber.org for more information.

This article published in the Fall 2017 edition of B2B.

Holly Benson

Mid-Century Modern

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann, Kristine Gerber

In post-World War II America, a contemporary design style borne of the modernist movement and emphasizing a balance of form and function came to the attention of visionary Omaha developers and architects. The resulting homes and buildings completed in that style made for some distinctive neighborhoods that endure as models of aesthetics and utility and that continue to fascinate owners and onlookers alike.

What became known as Mid-Century Modern is seeing a resurgence in interest today among preservationists and restorers, thanks in part to television shows like Mad Men and their celebration of vintage culture. That interest was never more evident than during a October Mid-Century Modern tour sponsored by Restore Omaha and Omaha 2020 that drew a record 850 participants.

elevation drawing 106 s 89th crop copy

Sketch drawn by architect Donald Polsky

Restore Omaha President Kristine Gerber says it was the organization’s first tour to focus on an architectural style, and the Indian Hills neighborhood offered “the best collection” of Mid-Century Modern. A 2010 Omaha Historic Building Survey of Mid-Century Modern neighborhoods by Leo A. Daly architects Christina Jansen and Jennifer Honebrink offered a blueprint or map for the tour.

For tour participants, it meant getting inside homes they may have long-admired from afar or been curious to see for themselves the various ways in which these structures bring the outdoors “in.”

Mid-Century Modern homeowners like Mark Manhart and Bonnie Gill love their residences. “We both feel we have lived here forever and plan no move now or later,” says Manhart.

Gerber says there’s growing appreciation for the style’s ahead-of-its-time characteristics of flat roofs, open floor plans, floor-to-ceiling windows, ample natural light, and green design-construction elements.

There’s motivation, too, in obtaining National Register of Historic Places status for select Mid-Century Modern structures and neighborhoods that qualify.

Mid-Century Modern can be found in other metro neighborhoods besides Indian Hills, but some intentional decisions made it the prime site for it to flower here.

Food manufacturer brothers Gilbert and W. Clarke Swanson, along with architect Leo A. Daly, saw potential to develop a modern, upscale suburban neighborhood taking its name from the old Indian Hills Golf Course. Commercial structures, such as Christ the King Church and the Leo A. Daly company headquarters, became shining examples of this modernist-inspired architectural style.

Leo A. Daly company headquarters.

Leo A. Daly company headquarters is a shining model of modernist-inspired architecture.

But it was left up to a pair of edgy young architects, Don Polsky and Stanley J. How, Sr., to design dozens of residential homes in this new development featuring the attributes, values, and principles of Mid-Century Modern. How also designed one of Omaha’s most distinctive luxury apartment buildings, the sleek Swanson Towers, in Indian Hills. The building has since been converted to condominiums.

Together, the Swansons, Daly, How, and Polksy transformed the “built Omaha.”

“They were young tigers and weren’t necessarily rooted in doing the same old thing, and I think they saw an opportunity to do some things that were really unique and new,” says Stan How, president of Stanley J. How Architects, the company his late father founded. He says his father was “a cutting-edge guy.”

Polsky apprenticed with superstar modernist architect Richard Neutra in Los Angeles and borrowed concepts from his mentor and others for the work he did in Omaha. He says Mid-Century Modern’s appeal all these years later makes sense because its forward-thinking approaches and emphasis on clean lines, simplicity, and efficient use of space are what many homebuyers look for today.

“We were green before its time, we put in a lot of insulation, we shaded our windows, we oriented things towards light, and brought light into the home. We used insulating glass, we planted trees to give us shade, we broke the wind from the north, and we worked with the client’s budget on the configuration of the sight,” Polsky says. Passive solar features and energy-efficient systems were rarities then.

Stan How says his father began practicing architecture for Leo A. Daly right as the modernist movement caught on. “He started his career at a perfect time to absorb all these new things going on. When he went out on his own, he had some clients who had the guts, he’d always say, to explore some of these ideas and let him toy around with that.” Mike Ford became a key early client.

Stan How, Sr., turned his business over to his son in 1990 but still came into the office every day until his death in December 2011.

Stan How, Sr., turned his business over to his son in 1990 but still came into the office every day until his death in December 2011.

“Mike was a young guy who wanted to do something really new, so my dad floated out the contemporary style or what we now call Mid-Century Modern, and Mike loved it. But he also didn’t want to be the only one on the street with a house like that, so he bought four lots and said, ‘Let’s do four spec houses,’ and that’s what they did.”

One of those Stanley How-designed homes, built in 1963, was later purchased by Mark Manhart and Bonnie Gill. Homebuyers like Ford were the exception, however, not the rule, as Mid-Century found relatively few takers.

“We’re a pretty conservative [town], Omaha. It’s not Los Angeles. I thought you’d just show a few things and they’d be beating a path to your door, but it didn’t turn out that way,” says Polsky. “There’s still a limited supply of buyers for this type of architecture but you do what you can, you carry the torch.”

Polsky marveled though at the huge turnout to see his homes and those of his old colleague, Stanley How, Sr. “It’s amazing how many people showed up,” he says.

Don Polsky at his drafting desk.

Don Polsky at his drafting desk, circa 1979.

Stan How says designs by his father and Polsky are the antithesis of the overblown, oversized McMansions many homeowners reject today. “I think people are coming back to simplicity.” Indeed, Mark Manhart says, “the clean lines and classic simplicity” of his home are major attraction points for he and his wife and the many inquirers who call on them.

The only regret How has is that his father wasn’t around to see all the love his homes are getting today. “He would have absolutely reveled in it. He would have loved it.”

The March 1-2 Restore Omaha Conference will once again offer a strong lineup of expert preservation and restoration presenters, says Gerber, who promises a dynamic host site that gives attendees an insider’s glimpse at some landmark. For more information, visit restoreomaha.org.

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