Tag Archives: Omaha

Dressed to the Hilt in a Kilt

May 17, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Nick Moore has a specific and well-developed personal style—obvious when he wears a kilt on golf and hunting trips.

The 31-year-old clothing aficionado and professional clothier for Tom James Co. began cultivating what he calls his “British Town and Country” style aesthetic in high school. “I think in another life I was part of the English landed gentry; I would have loved to have lived in Downton Abbey, post-WWI in the English countryside,” he says.

Along with his appreciation for kilts, Moore admits to having a love affair with tweed jackets. For boots, he prefers Australian R.M. Williams. Belts are another obsession (his favorite is an alligator-leather Martin Dingman belt with a personalized brass monogram buckle).

But the Nebraska-born style consultant says he is just as comfortable in torn jeans and muddy boots as he is in black tie.

You’d be hard-pressed to find Moore in old, tattered denim, though. His elevated sense of style even translates to his active pursuits, including hunting, fishing, and golf.

He says he abhors much of the newer tech and sporting gear, so he wears clothing he would normally wear every day for his outdoor activities. And yes, that includes tweed jackets.

“It’s not like I have a completely separate wardrobe like most people do,” Moore says. “I don’t have one stitch of camouflage. I’d rather wear a tweed jacket than an Under Armour microfiber camo-techie sort of thing.”

His day-to-day and activewear wardrobe consists of an abundance of tweed and natural wool in the fall and winter, and cotton and linen pieces in the spring and summer.

The “master of it all,” Ralph Lauren, Moore says is a key inspiration for his style and was even the focus of his capstone during his MBA studies at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

“He [Ralph Lauren] is able to create his own narrative through clothing. He was a very active guy, being outdoors and doing fun sports,” Moore says. “He picked that medium and he sort of created a movable feast of self-expression. And I love guys—speaking of movable feast—like Hemingway; I loved the way guys could look good and be active.”

For special occasions in the field—such as the opening weekend for pheasant hunting in South Dakota—Moore breaks out a kilt. It started with Moore wearing a tie adorned with pheasants on one trip a few years ago. From that fashion statement, a competition of style-wits emerged between Moore and his hunting buddies.

Reaching back to his Scottish heritage on his father’s side, Moore decided to take his hunting attire to the next level. He surprised his companions one year after asking his grandmother to sew him a kilt for the hunt.

Since then, the sometimes tartan-clad hunter has expanded his wardrobe to three kilts (including a formal one for black-tie occasions).

“It’s an impractical thing to wear hunting, but it makes people happy,” he says. “It gives a little levity to something that a lot of people, I think, take too seriously.”

Moore says he enjoys having the right gear for the right moment. He appreciates the details of a custom fly rod, the grain of wood on a shotgun, or the hand-stitching in a garment.

“I just love the details. And I think that’s probably where I get most of my excitement in clothing,” he says. “In all elements of style and design, in life, are the details—the little things that maybe no one else will notice. But I will.”


Individuals wishing to contact Moore for style consultations can reach him by email at n.moore@tomjames.com. Visit tomjames.com for more information.

This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Guest-Starring at Omaha’s First Drive-In

May 16, 2018 by
Photography by Durham Museum
Illustration by Matt Wieczorek

In the summer of 1972, I discovered the power of a flashlight with an orange wand.

Nobody had ever paid attention to me—an undersized 16-year-old—until I worked at the 76th & West Dodge Drive-In and accepted that mighty Eveready-powered scepter. Cars went where I pointed. Sneak-ins crawling out of trunks trembled in the beam and then marched to the box office to buy tickets. The wallop of authority was mine, at $1.35 per hour, ushering at Omaha’s first drive-in theater.

The manager, Gil, and assistant, Sam (fresh from the Navy in San Diego and owner of a new Nova), ran the joint. It had opened in 1948. That was 15 years after the first drive-in theater opened in Camden, New Jersey. The enticement for Omahans (as a local newspaper ad claimed) was privacy and comfort. “Smoke, talk, take refreshments, all without disturbing others!” Adults paid 60 cents, kiddos were free, and no need to rub against all those germy people in a proper theater. Other drive-ins would follow: the Sky View near 72nd Street and Military Avenue, the Golden Spike at 114th Street and West Dodge Road, and the Q Twin at 108th and Q streets.

Besides the glory of receiving my first paychecks, it was a summer of warm nights and hot snack-bar girls. I was smitten with the shy blonde from Papillion. As I remember, she was the projectionist’s daughter. He toiled with those reels as a second job, getting by on little sleep. The box office ladies were earning a little extra for their families, too. The brunette who completed the snack bar staff returned with her boyfriend on a night off, and their Pinto hatchback with wide rear glass let them display their passions.

I reported for work at 6 p.m. Right away one evening, still new at the job, I was asked to replace the bulb in one of the tower flood lamps. The screen tower had its own self-supporting internal structure and was enclosed, providing shelter for the many pigeons that roosted inside, coming and going through an unknown opening. Carrying a large new bulb during the long climb up the internal ladder, I emerged through a hatch onto the narrow roof and had the unprecedented experience of being untethered and confident above the city. When a couple of early-arriving patrons honked in acknowledgment, it was my first starring role.

Catching sneak-ins before showtime was important and returned several times my hourly pay. Obscured by a tree limb, I sat waiting atop the back fence. Cars drove right up to that point; the driver got out and opened the trunk; and one, two, or three people climbed out. Before they could even take a step, I vaulted off the fence, shook my scepter, and exclaimed, “You’re gonna have to pay!” Seeing grown-ups quiver was gratifying. One Carter Lake motorcycle gang-type wasn’t impressed, though. He snatched away my scepter and chucked it, the beam rotating on its own axis, clear to the snack bar’s roof. Then he walked through the theater and got into a car four rows from the front, near the lot’s exit. Gil called the cops, but the subjects drove away too soon.

One night my friend John Fulmer was visiting to see how I ruled over the place. After dark, we got some action when two kids came flying over the east fence. I chased them back over, and with no firm plan in mind, pursued full speed beyond the property into an open field until one of the pursued turned midstride and delivered a shot of pepper spray. For some reason, before fumbling them, I’d been holding onto the keys to John’s blue Malibu. I made it back to the snack bar, where sympathetic Gil oversaw my eye-washing. Meanwhile, John put on his X-ray specs and found the keys.

The B-movies shown that summer were instructive. Reflecting Sartre’s ill effect on cinema, Vanishing Point gave us existential hero Kowalski in a cross-country chase movie. Star actor Barry Newman was a second-rate Steve McQueen, but the Dodge Challenger excelled in its role. And making for an even better movie, a naked hippie girl rode a Honda! The chase ended when Kowalski crashed the Challenger into a Nevada roadblock, and the audience understood that life is meaningless. The plot creaked like the screen tower’s structure in the wind. No matter, though, the movie achieved masterpiece status by holding over a second big week. Popcorn sales kept the snack-bar girls humming.

At my hiring, no one had mentioned cleanup duties. After getting home around 2 a.m. on weekend triple-feature nights, I was expected back at 8 a.m. to poke around with a steel spike on a long shaft and fill trash bags. Patrons left everything on the ground but their acne. Besides snack bar purchases, they dumped ashtrays, beer cans, diapers, and to limit future diapers, family planning measures.

Old South Omaha Joe, the wizened authority of theater cleanup, soloed on weekdays. Come the weekend, three of us split up the lot. In his 70s—I couldn’t believe such a fossil could still work—Joe and his spiked-stick covered about three or four times my territory. Sunday mornings were the worst, and the closer to noon, the more putrid it all was.

When we took a fresh-air break inside the snack bar, indefatigable Joe capered around to the tunes of the Big Joe Polka Show.

Changing the marquee was a Thursday-night ritual. Our big sign sat on a steel structure near the street. Two of us climbed up with boxes of plastic letters that snapped into metal tracks, and we concentrated on our spelling despite the din of honking horns.

Besides Vanishing Point, Omahans had a taste for material that derived from another French writer, de Sade. In their service came my introduction to porn. Women-in-prison films—“Soft young girls behind hard prison bars”—were nearly mainstream in those days. I thought about reminding Gil that I wasn’t old enough to see R-rated movies, then got a grip and entered the sordid world of Roger Corman, starring Pam Grier. My parents had no idea!

Gil and Sam had been awfully nice, so I felt bad about putting down my scepter and going back to school. The lessons from that summer—handling large mowers, directing traffic, kicking ass, and not being a glutton for free popcorn—stayed with me. I can say that I never misused my authority, getting too bossy or smart when marching detainees to the box office or pranking patrons by faking police sirens in their moment of ecstasy. 

The 76th & West Dodge Drive-In closed in 1983, and retail space occupied the site. Until the other day, I thought drive-in theaters were passé. Then Elon Musk said he wants one at a Tesla charging location in Los Angeles. The outdoor screen would display “a highlight reel of the best scenes in movie history,” Musk tweeted. I presume that among them we would not find any from Women in Cages.

But Musk should think hard about the likelihood of Tesla owners being the only people on earth who don’t litter. Just wait. They’ll open their gull-wing doors and throw out herbal tea bags and energy bar wrappers like other humans. And another point: providential managers like Gil and Sam, hot snack-bar girls like the Papio Blonde, and a quick man with a stick like South Omaha Joe are hard to find. An usher with some attitude is good to have around, too. 


This article was printed in the July/August 2018 issue of Omaha Magazine.

Design is a Team Effort

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

How many magazines (outside of this one) do you read? I walk into the bookstore about once a month and look at the magazine racks. I’ve always enjoyed looking at the magazine section, and while certain magazines routinely grab my attention, new ones catch me each month by their
cover designs. 

It is thanks to graphic artists that readers stop in their tracks and pick up a magazine, but even a simplistic-looking cover is far from that—in some cases, the simpler the cover, the harder to design.

The cover you are viewing was created by senior graphic designer Derek Joy. He and I work closely on B2B—and I enjoy looking at how he inserts his colorful personality into the magazine.

His work is often subtle. He came up with a great design element a couple of months ago—a diamond-shaped graphic that is placed near the page numbers and explains the department in a creative way, such as the crescent moon in the diamond on “After Hours.” And take another look at last year’s Best of B2B results in the March/April/May 2017 edition (visit readonlinenow.com to see the issue). That launching rocket ship you find throughout the list was due to Derek’s creativity.

I also work with several other incredible artists. Creative director Matt Wieczorek’s appreciation of clean styles inspired the geometric, art-deco look for the annual Faces of Omaha, and graphic designer Mady Besch brought an element of surprise to the latest Family Guide with a cover made from felt, photographed by Bill Sitzmann. And Katiuska Nuñez produces stunning custom ads for
our advertisers.

I hope you enjoy reading about the design-inspired articles in this issue. 


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

Daisy Hutzell-Rodman is the managing editor of B2B, a publication of Omaha Magazine LTD. She can be reached at daisy@omahamagazine.com.

Attracting & Retaining Talent in the Construction Industry

According to a 2018 survey by the Associated General Contractors of America and Sage Construction and Real Estate, 78 percent of construction firms report they struggle to hire qualified talent, a 5 percent increase from the previous year. Without qualified talent, companies are forced to either turn down projects or hire unqualified employees, increasing the potential for poor productivity, safety issues, turnover, and a damaged company reputation. Aside from increasing base pay, providing bonuses, and improving employee benefits, what else can firms do to attract and retain talent?

Training and Development

Growth opportunities are one of the key drivers of employee engagement. Consider providing employees with job shadowing, technical training, leadership development, mentoring, and coaching. Provide employees with clear career paths and milestones. 

In addition, consider leadership-development opportunities. Workers with strong technical skills are often promoted into leadership positions. However, leadership positions often require different skillsets, and those with good technical skills don’t always receive the necessary leadership training. Determine what competencies are necessary for leadership in your organization, evaluate workers based on these competencies, provide training, and regularly provide feedback on strengths and development opportunities. Providing leadership-development opportunities will increase retention and ensure a pool of potential leaders to pull from in the future.

Purpose

Employees need to understand the company’s vision and how their role fits into it. Provide employees with opportunities to contribute by asking for their feedback and ideas. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the weeds and lose sight of the big picture of what’s being built and why, and innovative solutions can come from many different people. Provide recognition for their contributions and achievements, and remind employees about the achievements they are contributing to every day. Consider introducing workers to those who have benefited from their projects—students, hospital patients, employees, etc. Helping your workers understand the big picture will instill in them a sense of purpose and pride.  

Reputation

Consider your company’s reputation among customers, current employees, and the community in general. People want to work for companies that have a great mission and a reputation for treating their employees well. Survey your staff and identify how the company, and its culture, is perceived. What is your company’s level of employee engagement? Identify strategies to bolster the culture, increase engagement levels, and thus enhance your company’s reputation. 

Improvement of pay and benefits are considerations for attracting and retaining qualified workers in the construction industry, but continuous learning and growth opportunities show that management is invested in professional development and long-term careers. By showing employees how their work contributes to a larger purpose and considering the company’s reputation, a company is well-poised to attract and retain talent.


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

Lauren Weivoda, M.A., is a​ ​human​ ​capital​ ​strategist​​ at Solve Consulting LLC.

Height-Adjustable Desks Are Easy To Love

The “act of sitting” is bad. It’s not just about how poor posture can lead to chronic pain; it can reduce life expectancy.

According to a study by the National Institute of Health, the average American spends 7.7 hours a day sitting in front of the computer, in the car, or on the couch. That equals about 55 percent of one’s waking time. 

More shocking were the findings of a study by the Annals of Internal Medicine. This study suggested that the amount of time a person sits during the day is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and death, regardless of regular exercise.

That last part surprised me. The study suggests that even those who go to the gym after a long day of sitting in front of the computer are going to suffer the ill effects of sitting.

Height-adjustable desks are a great way to help augment a healthier lifestyle. Because of that, these desks have been gaining popularity in households and professional workplaces. Here are some reasons to love height-adjustable desks.

Better Posture

A height-adjustable desk naturally improves posture and strengthens the spine when upright. It’s a lot harder to slouch and hunch over the computer when standing up. This means fewer backaches and pains.

Increased Energy

With better posture comes better breathing. Sitting at the computer for a long period of time can be exhausting and even painful. Think about a typical day at work: after 30 to 45 minutes of staying in the same seated position, muscles can cramp, and blood flow slows, leaving a person feeling restless and uncomfortable. Standing helps increase blood flow and even helps tone muscles. This lets employees remain alert and increases their energy while working. They become more focused, and in turn, more productive.

Longer Life

This may sound dramatic, but it is no joke: a height-adjustable desk could literally add years to a person’s life. Studies by the NIH and Centers for Disease Control, among others, have described prolonged sitting as “the new smoking.” Sedentary habits can lead to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. These studies show that reducing the amount of time spent seated can help reduce the risk of these diseases.

More Calories Burned

A height-adjustable desk can help avoid the health pitfalls of sitting all day and burn calories at the same time, as standing burns more calories than sitting. Studies show that about 50 calories are burned per hour when simply standing, but standing encourages people to move even more, often burning significantly more calories.

Those who are not quite ready to stand up and work should note that it is still important to get up and move…your life may depend on it!


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

Doug Schuring is the director of sales administration at All Makes Office Equipment Co.

Ethical Governing Boards

In business, we design our spaces, websites, products, and services. But design also applies to the human element of business. 

When a company scandal hits, we can often trace difficulties and challenges back to its board. That’s why it is important to spend some time designing and maintaining the ethical cultures of governing boards. Here I am referring to the formal structures and informal practices that shape the board’s experience and effectiveness.

The formal aspect of a board culture has to do with the written policies and processes. The No. 1 ethical issue facing boards is conflict of interest. That is why board members are asked to sign conflict of interest statements. Other typical policies include member rights and responsibilities, and a code of ethics. The best governing boards have developed orientation packets for new board members that include these policies and ask them and existing members to read and sign them each year they serve.

The informal aspect of board culture is more elusive. This has to do with the way things are actually done rather than the way the policies state they should be done. Informal culture is driven by individuals rather than the written word. It is messy and human, filled with honorable intentions as well as blindspots. 

One of the best articles about designing the ethical culture of boards is a Harvard Business Review article written by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld titled “What Makes Great Boards Great.” He identifies key ethical aspects for governing board success. Three important ones are:

  1. Create a climate of trust and candor: A climate of trust is built on respect. Board members who respect each other can challenge each other in civil debates, which result in better decisions for the company. CEOs and executive directors can create a climate of trust and candor by distributing materials in a timely fashion, sharing difficult information, and openly asking for feedback.
  2. Foster open dissent: It is the duty of each board member to be willing to question each other’s assumptions and beliefs. The best boards create environments that nurture these exchanges, and, in doing so, help members overcome the conformity bias and groupthink that are deadly to an organization. It is important to note that open dissent is different from disloyalty—the first is healthy and the second is toxic.
  3. Ensure individual accountability: Governing board members are expected to take their roles seriously and follow through responsibly. This can be hard to do, especially when leaders accept offers from too many good causes and end up with too little time. We have to be honest with ourselves about the number of things we are capable of doing well. Board members need to hold each other accountable, which is the best insurance against irresponsibility.

Designing ethical governing board cultures is a challenge worthy of brave hearts and noble leaders. When done well it can make boards great.


Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Business Ethics Alliance and the Daugherty Chair in Business Ethics and Society at Creighton University.

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

Motivation from Within

I’d like to introduce the concept of the elephant and the rider. The elephant represents the emotional self, which is powerful, massive, momentum-generating, and typically gets to where it wants to go.  The rider represents the spiritual self, which is purposeful, self-aware, and desires great things in life. Most people go through life allowing the elephant to go wherever it wants.  In other words, people behave based on how they feel in the moment. The problem here is that the elephant does not want growth, which is difficult, challenging, risky, and painful. Rather the elephant fears failure, wants instant gratification, and desires “comfort-zone” living. Without guidance from an engaged rider, the elephant won’t lead a life of success. The elephant will choose to go down a path that leads to incredible success but is filled with hunters, pits, traps, nets, and spears, instead of a path that leads to conformity and status quo but is filled with safety, laziness, easy and comfort. 

As a salesperson, do not let the elephant go where it wants to go. Steer it down the path that leads to success.  Wake up the rider so that its power will drive the elephant towards success.  

It’s a multi-step process. The first thing needed is a vision/mission statement that clarifies a purpose for living. This will ignite a passion that will trump the feeling of fear and resignation that typically keeps people from pursing success. Second, take sales one step at a time.  When the elephant looks to the summit of the mountain from the mountain’s base, it will become overwhelmed. Give the elephant manageable milestones that are achievable and well-mapped out, and the elephant starts to move up the mountain. Third, define key performance metrics that prove progress is being made, because if the elephant is to sustain the effort up the mountain, it needs to know that movement towards the summit is happening. The emotion that keeps the elephant climbing is called fulfillment. Last, condition this enormous beast with a predefined reward system that provides treats every time a milepost is reached. This causes the elephant to become your biggest ally in the pursuit of success.

Knowing true purpose is crucial to awakening the rider so that it will steer the elephant. In an effort to define this, here are six questions to ponder:

  1. What were you born to do?
  2. How do you want to be remembered?
  3. What makes you wake up and go to work?
  4. How can you become more self-aware?
  5. What gets you excited and passionate?
  6. What impact are you having on others?

The answers to these questions can help the rider steer the elephant in the right direction.


Karl Schaphorst is a 27-year veteran of sales who now specializes in training other sales professionals. He is the president of Sandler Training.

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

Around the Table

Photography by Bill Sitzmann and contributed

In this new department, the B2B editors are asking key questions of three executives in the same, or a similar, field. In this inaugural article, for the design issue, we spoke with three executives of ad agencies/PR firms: Robin Donovan, president of Bozell, which has nearly 50 employees; Wendy Wiseman, president and COO of Zaiss & Co., which has nearly 20 employees; and Dave Nelson, founder of Secret Penguin, which has nearly 10 employees.

Talent retention is a big worry for many ad agencies. How do you retain talented people? 

Donovan: Our culture is what keeps our people. The entrepreneurial environment, the family atmosphere (kids and pets are in and out), and the obsession with giving back to the community (paying rent for the space we occupy on this earth). Those who do leave for a time often come back. 

Wiseman: All [our employees] are empowered and expected to bring their “A” game. When people are motivated by meeting marketing challenges, they thrive here, because that’s what we do.

Nelson: We’re in a very fortunate position to have talented people, and even more fortunate to have thoughtful people. Our mission is to make communities better…and more fun. We hire, take on work, and have created a work environment based on that. Because of this mission being very authentic, and not something we just say to feel good, everyone here feels a sense of purpose. We don’t report to one another, we support one another.

Robin Donovan

What question are you often asked that drives you crazy?

Donovan: “Even though I’m an engineer, I created this brochure for my company. Everyone tells me it’s great. Do you think it’s great?”

Wiseman: “Do you do websites?” As a marketing partner we do what needs to be done to reach marketing goals. We say we are medium agnostic—we don’t favor one over the other and in fact, integrated media is what works, but planning, building, and maintaining websites is something we’ve done since companies could have websites.

Nelson: We can’t expect other people to know the right questions to ask about our industry. I’d rather have a conversation than not. I love questions. When I used to get upset about questions, it was more because I couldn’t just give a simple and clear answer—meaning I didn’t know enough to be able to talk about it. Furthermore, if anyone asks a question, that could mean we didn’t communicate clearly what we can offer—so every question is a potential learning opportunity.

What practices or resources help you stay ahead of the curve?  

Donovan: We go out of our way to recruit folks with an insatiable curiosity. That makes it a lot easier to keep up with what’s coming next, because as end users change, so must the methods of communicating with them change. These incredible folks are our best resources.

Wiseman: Belonging to the current conversation via forums, associations, certifications in the social sphere, being in the marketing culture. We observe and absorb what is working for brands out there, and frankly, we’re creating strategies that work and lead—all to get to goal.

Nelson: Caring. Caring about our clients, our clients’ communities they serve, our team, the work we put out—caring is the only reason to stay ahead of the curve and it pushes us to do whatever we each personally need to do to do so. That being said, each member of the team cares and they do their own thing to stay ahead of the curve with whatever their role is.

Wendy Wiseman

How are you working to create an enduring organization?  

Donovan: We don’t just do what is asked; we dive deeper and do what is needed to take our clients to the top or keep them there. And we are intent on helping them drive success to their bottom line.

Wiseman: Zaiss & Company just celebrated our 29-year anniversary. Our organization endures because we have an enduring mission to help our partners grow profitably through our dedication to making marketing strategies and marketing communication as effective as they can be. We stay up on our industry and those [industries] of our clients.

Nelson: One of our main goals has been to create a sustainable business. We prioritize everything we do at SecretPenguin with personal health (physical, mental, spiritual—whatever any of that means to the individual); relationships (family and friends); work; and community. We only take on work if we will create or refine the brand. And we are focused on a slow and steady growth plan to create a solid team and a solid group of clients.

What keeps you up at night?  

Donovan: Envisioning how we can possibly top our last success so that we can keep our clients enthralled and our staff engaged.

Wiseman: As entrepreneurs at heart, we relate to the responsibilities our clients carry. From marketing directors to presidents/CEOs of all sizes of businesses, we empathize with what keeps them up at night—leads, sales, earnings, competition, innovation, staffing. When we commit to helping grow our clients’ businesses with marketing, meeting their goals and strategic solutions play through our brains throughout the night.

Nelson: The only time I have a concern is when there is miscommunication. If there’s anything that keeps me up, it’s how to resolve any miscommunication that could hurt the team’s relationship or our client’s relationship.

Dave Nelson

How has your industry changed since you entered the field?

Donovan: Way back then it was about helping clients meet and exceed their challenges—and that’s what it’s about now. [But], when I entered the industry we used desk phones, typewriters, Western Union, and faxes. And we had mechanicals for every ad. Do you know what any of those things are?

Wiseman: Exponentially and not at all. Digital media and digital natives have turned a lot on its head; however, in the end, this is marketing—the art and science of changing attitudes/stimulating action. The age-old practices of knowing who you are targeting and what you want them to know, think, and feel about your brand is primary no matter the medium. It’s about a focus on benefit and understanding that content is king.

Nelson: Technology, mainly. But, at the root of it all—our industry has always been about clearly communicating what a brand offers to their community, then building relationships between the brand and their community. So, no matter what comes along, I can have peace knowing that will never change.


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

The Rise of the Contract Worker

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

Cybersecurity

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It was a Black Friday story that had nothing to do with holiday bargains. In 2013, cyber criminals hacked into Target Corp.’s customer database and stole as many as 40 million credit card numbers. Customer names, credit and debit card numbers, expiration dates, and CVV codes were reportedly compromised, presumably so hackers could use the data to make new cards. 

Customers everywhere were affected.

Leaders at Minnesota-based Target were horrified and embarrassed as the hack made international news. Amid criticism that the company should have done more to protect consumers—and an investigation launched by authorities in Nebraska and nearly every other state—Target later implemented a $5 million cybersecurity coalition charged with preventing such breeches from happening again. The total cost of the cyberattack on Target reached as high as $300 million, according to news reports. That included class action lawsuit settlements and money paid to credit card companies, banks, and credit unions.

While the damage was done, the retailer wasn’t alone. The financial loss from cybercrimes surpassed $1.3 billion in 2016, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. There were nearly 300,000 complaints to the agency that year from businesses of all sizes.

Such cybercrimes have put companies everywhere on high alert—and looking at what cybersecurity measures they have in place. 

That includes businesses in Omaha. 

“We have to ask, ‘How do we endure security of information, customer privacy, systems compliance, the website, power stations, and landfill?’” says Joshua Mauk, the Omaha Public Power District director of security, whose job includes cybersecurity. “Our job is to implement a security program that helps us achieve all of those objectives across all of the district.” 

“Cybersecurity” sounds like a buzzword, but it’s a real concern among companies and law enforcement officials. The FBI says cybercrimes are becoming “more commonplace, more dangerous, and more sophisticated.” The agency reports that hackers target companies like Target for data and trade secrets, universities for research, and consumers for money and identity theft.

Along with being a monetary hassle, work is often disrupted or stopped altogether at companies, hospitals, even 911 centers. The hackers range from disgruntled or thrill-seeking computer geeks to international terrorists and spies looking for money to fund their operations. Even a small attack is a potential threat to national security. 

Some attacks target hardware and software, such as malware. Others are online fraud and phishing schemes, while yet others are considered “sexploitation,” according to Interpol. 

FBI officials say they have begun partnering with companies and organizations around the country as part of its cyber division’s efforts to boost cybersecurity nationwide. 

OPPD is one of them. The utility is working with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to try and prevent cybercrimes at the utility. If hackers took down OPPD’s system, then every single customer—or 820,000 people—could, theoretically, lose power indefinitely.

Mauk declined to specify OPPD’s cyber security program, citing security reasons. Other companies, including First National Bank of Omaha, declined to comment due to safety concerns. 

“There have been a number of utilities around the world that have been targeted,” Mauk says. “The biggest risk to us is someone coming in and taking down the entire system. The FBI and Homeland Security let us know about new risks, new threats, and we use that information to ensure we are adjusting those concerns to our cybersecurity program.” 

Omaha police acknowledge that while cybercrimes tend to fall under federal jurisdiction, they would investigate a cybercrime that occurred in the city. But most of the time, cyber attacks are conducted by people located in other states or countries—not local hackers. 

Police say some companies may experience a cyberattack, but neglect to report it to law enforcement due to the idea that it might harm their image or reputation. 

The Nebraska Attorney General’s Office has a cybercrimes division aimed at protecting Nebraskans from technology crimes through education and, in some cases, legal action. 

Take the Target data breach. Last year, Attorney General Doug Peterson announced that Nebraska had joined 46 other states and the District of Columbia to reach an $18.5 million settlement against the retail giant stemming from the incident. The state received $199,382 as its share. 

Peterson had said it was the largest multi-state data breach settlement to date. 

In October, Peterson’s office released a statement promoting cybersecurity in the workplace: 

“As recent major cybersecurity incidents have shown, cybercriminals often rely on human error—like failing to install software patches, clicking on malicious links, and creating easy-to-guess passwords—to gain access to systems and information. Every member of an organization—from senior leadership to the newest employees—is responsible for keeping information and systems secure. The chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That’s why strong cybersecurity practices are so important.”

Authorities and security experts worry, though, that cybercrimes will continue and even increase as advances in technology are made. Officials and corporate security teams understand they have to stay two steps ahead, always. 

“This is definitely something we are investing in, from a people, processes, and technology standpoint,” Mauk says. “We will have additional layers of security to always protect the corporate side, critical infrastructure, and plants.” 


Visit the attorney general’s webpage, ago.nebraska.gov, for more information on cybersecurity.

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

Joshua Mauk