Tag Archives: Cabela’s

Steve Grasz Takes the Bench

March 2, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Illustration by Matt Wieczoreck

Omaha attorney Steve Grasz sat watching TV in a conference room at the law firm of Husch Blackwell.

Passionate about Husker basketball, he attends most of the home games and rarely misses a televised game.

On this particular December day, he was joined by his wife and daughter.

It was around 3:30 p.m. Kind of early to be watching TV on a Tuesday afternoon. The bottom of the screen listed the score at 10 to 2. The law firm’s managing partner grabbed a seat next to Steve. Everyone was excited and a bit tense.

Seventeen minutes later, the tide had turned—it was 24 to 31. A few more attorneys slipped into the back of the room and were pacing nervously. Watching a basketball game was usually more fun than this. Perhaps the mood would have been more jovial if there actually was a Husker game on that day. But the TV wasn’t turned to ESPN.

Grasz and his group were watching live C-SPAN coverage of the U.S. Senate voting on whether to confirm his appointment to serve as a federal judge on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Twenty-two minutes into the confirmation session and this battle royal was all tied up: 44 “Yes” votes to confirm, 44 “No” votes to deny confirmation.

(Sometimes C-SPAN can be just as exciting as ESPN….)

A few months earlier, Nebraska Sens. Deb Fischer and Ben Sasse had recommended Grasz to President Donald Trump for this position. Trump promptly nominated the native Nebraskan and University of Nebraska College of Law graduate.

Judicial nominees to U.S. circuit courts typically encounter roadblocks from foes of all shapes and sizes—especially Trump nominees—and after intense scrutiny, the American Bar Association deemed Grasz “not qualified” for the position. The ABA cited “temperament issues…lack of open-mindedness” and declared that the nominee’s “bias…colored his ability to judge fairly.”

Sen. Sasse rejects the ABA assessment: “I’ve long known and respected Steve’s dedicated service to our state and to many nonprofit organizations working in our communities. As I worked with Steve throughout the judiciary process, my colleagues met a man with the characteristics you’d expect from your neighbor here in Nebraska.”

The former Nebraska Chief Deputy Attorney General faced an uphill battle. This included a confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which the Huffington Post called “awkward” and “brutal.”

At this point in the process, Grasz was receiving bipartisan support from the likes of the former Democratic governor and senator Ben Nelson and President Barack Obama’s Nebraska appointee for U.S. attorney, Deb Gilg. If you weren’t watching the live C-SPAN coverage (which you probably weren’t) you missed Sen. Fischer’s impassioned comments to the members of the Senate just prior to the roll call.

In conversation with Sen. Fischer, she tells Omaha Magazine, “These things become so partisan, and this is a case where we have a good candidate. He is a good solid man. Very humble.”

The final vote was cast by Sen. Daniel Scott Sullivan of Alaska at 3:59 p.m. Grasz was victorious by a score of 50 to 48. The vote was along party lines with Republican senators all voting “yay” and Democrat senators voting “nay.” (Sens. John McCain and Thad Cochran abstained from voting due to illnesses.)

Sen. Fischer adds: “It was quite evident early on in the interview process that Steve’s intellect and temperament matched up very well with all of the recommendations we had received on him. The 8th Circuit Court examines the big constitutional questions and with his focus on the Constitution and his focus on the rule of law…he’s exactly the type of person we want to be on that court. I’m very pleased that he is going to be serving not just Nebraskans, but the American people.” 

So how did Judge Grasz celebrate after being granted a lifetime appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals? Not by going to Disneyland…

“We went out to dinner, and I love basketball, so we went to a high school basketball game,” he says. That night, in the parking lot of Concordia High School, just prior to tip-off, Steve received a congratulatory phone call from White House counsel and assistant to the president Don McGahn. Over the next few days, he received similar calls from numerous Washington insiders—including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

(And in case you’re wondering, the Concordia Mustangs whooped the Scotus Shamrocks by a score of 57 to 48.)

“I have complete trust in Steve,” Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert tells Omaha Magazine. “I’ve known him for quite a long time. He served as my primary attorney for all of my political matters since I first ran for the legislature back in 2006. He’s always been very professional and very successful in advocating for me. He is very thorough, he is very fair, he is even-tempered and very open-minded. I know he will do a great job.”

“My permanent office will be downtown,” Grasz explains about his new vocation. “The 8th Circuit Court takes up most of the fourth floor in the Hruska Federal Courthouse. There is a courtroom and additional offices to accommodate three circuit judges when they’re in Omaha. I will also be traveling throughout the year, and I’ll have offices in St. Louis and St. Paul.”

Steve grew up in the Nebraska panhandle town of Chappell. Back then the town had a population of 1,280. As a youngster he was active in 4-H and showed steers and lambs. In high school he played basketball and ran track. He was a state officer for Future Farmers of America. His graduating class had a total of 33 students. Chappell now has a population 979.

“My dad was a farmer, and my mom lived on the farm for quite a while after my dad died. She’s very hard-working,” Grasz says.

Sen. Sasse is quite familiar with Grasz’ upbringing: “As many Nebraskans do, he grew up walking beans and raising livestock on the family farm. Now, on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, Steve gets the opportunity to continue to build on his career of public service and adherence to the rule of law that should make Nebraskans—across the state and the political aisle—proud.”

Ironically, Steve’s hometown has produced a handful of notable personalities including Virginia D. Smith, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 16 years. Grasz was an intern, and after graduating from UNL, worked as a legislative assistant in Rep. Smith’s office.

Dick Cabela, co-founder of outdoor outfitter Cabela’s, also called Chappell his home. “My mom was one of the very first people ever to work for Cabela’s—back when it was a two-person operation,” Steve recalls. “She would type envelopes for a penny apiece.” Steve’s mother now resides in Oklahoma, as do his brother and sister.

“When we sold our family farm, I was able to keep the creek bottom and we’ve got about 53 acres and a cabin there that my great-grandfather built so we still go out there and enjoy the farm. I’ve got aunts and uncles that still live in the area.”

Throughout his professional career, Grasz has authored numerous articles and letters to newspaper opinion pages to expound upon his political views. When asked about the practicality of using Twitter to get his message out there, he explains that he “had a Twitter account, which is closed now. I think I tweeted a total of eight or nine times and they were all talking about Nebraska basketball.”

Gov. Pete Ricketts is optimistic: “I have always enjoyed working with Steve, even when we don’t agree.

He is a man of the highest integrity. Steve is also one of the best constitutional lawyers in the state. We are fortunate to have his service on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.”

Who were Grasz’ major influences? He mentions his parents, family, a handful of teachers, and Attorney General Don Stenberg. He and his wife have four children who range in age from 19 to 26. “The youngest is a freshman at a liberal arts university in Tennessee, so my wife and I have been empty-nesters as of August.”

Grasz served as Chief Deputy Attorney General and worked with Attorney General Stenberg for 11 years. Grasz then joined the Omaha office of Husch Blackwell in 2002. In 2013 he was named senior partner.

As an attorney, Grasz has graced numerous Best Lawyers of America lists for more than a decade. 


We met for an interview on a frigid Friday, a few days before his swearing-in ceremony. He greeted me in the lobby of Husch Blackwell. I was wearing a suit.

“I should have told you it was casual day, ” he says after giving me a quick look-over.

Steve had on a pair of jeans and a long-sleeve, button-down Husker shirt. The Huskers had a basketball game against Delaware State that night in Lincoln. Tipoff was at 7 p.m.

A few hours after our interview, the Huskers won by a score of 85 to 68. Grasz was in the audience cheering for the victorious Nebraska team.

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Social Responsibility vs. Activist Investing

October 3, 2017 by
Illustration by Derek Joy

Activist investing. What is it? Who does it? Is it effective? Does it work?

As with anything, the answer to most of these questions is situational. According to the qz.com article “The 10 activist investors you should know,” whether activist investors are good or bad for companies and shareholders is a debate for the ages: “Are they short-term bettors who cause drama and then get out of a stock as soon as shares see a pop? Or are they constructive critics who add value, partly by pushing executives and boards to do things they are too complacent to do otherwise?”

A shareholder activist is a person who attempts to use his or her rights as a shareholder of a publicly-traded corporation to bring about change, according to investopedia.com. Issues addressed by activist investors, hypothetically, might focus on the environment, sweatshops, investment in politically “sensitive” parts of the world, and other issues surrounding worker and animal rights. However, the term “activist investor“ generally refers to institutional investors wishing to maximize their own profits (often in the short term). For example, Cabela’s sale to Bass Pro Shops was a deal pushed by New York hedge fund Elliott Management. In October 2016, after the sale was confirmed, Elliott Management was cashing out its 6 million shares for an expected $90 million in profit. The effect of this move on the employees residing in, and the community of, Sidney, Nebraska, was not the hedge fund’s concern.

According to Dr. Ernie Goss, who holds the MacAllister Chair in Economics at the department of economics and finance at Creighton University, “An activist investor is a person who owns enough shares to bring some issues before the board and force some changes on the board or in company operations…As an economist, I would have some issues with activist investors who take positions that are contrary to the overall, which is long-term shareholder value. In other words the goal of a corporation is long-term stakeholder and shareholder value.”

It is bad business, Goss says, to ignore community and employee stakeholders because one does not maximize shareholder value. “There’s a reason that ConAgra and Union Pacific and Mutual of Omaha give money to nonprofits, and that’s to maximize shareholder value,” Goss says. “In the short run, it reduces shareholder value, but in the long run it does contribute to shareholder value. So the goal of the board of directors and the management of a corporation is to maximize long-term shareholder value and stakeholder value as well. Other stakeholders that aren’t shareholders include the community, the employees, of course, and the environment.”

Union Pacific and ConAgra’s community philanthropy reflects a trend for corporate social responsibility.

An interesting example of activist investing, which advances a social or cultural activist agenda, occurred in March 2017 when the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals became a shareholder in the clothing company Canada Goose. According to PETA’s executive vice president Tracy Reiman, “PETA became a shareholder in Canada Goose in order to pressure the company from the inside to stop using cruelly-obtained coyote fur and down. Coyotes trapped in the wild can suffer for days before being shot, stomped on, or bludgeoned to death, and geese used to stuff Canada Goose jackets are violently killed for both their feathers and flesh—and the throats of many are slit while they’re still conscious and able to feel pain.” While it may seem quite a leap from storefront demonstrations at Canada Goose locations to the boardroom, PETA plans to use basically the same strategy used by Elliott Management (in the sale of Cabela’s to Bass Pro) to push the company in a “cruelty-free” direction.

Activist investing is an interesting tactic and one which has as much chance of succeeding as any other corporate takeover, with certain caveats. Activist investors, regardless of their intention, still need to maintain shareholder value in order to further their goals. In other words, for PETA to “be the change it wants to see in the world,” it still needs to behave in the best interest of its shareholders and stakeholders. Otherwise, according to Goss: “What would happen would be contrary to the goals of the corporation and to PETA, because ultimately that’s not good for shareholder value and ultimately that corporation is going to have less and less influence because they’re pursuing goals that might be contrary to the overall long-term goal, which is shareholder value. Because ultimately if the stock price keeps coming down, then PETA owns shares that are coming down in value.”

PETA could inadvertently be self-defeating while successfully achieving their primary goal of ending the use of animals in Canada Goose products, as insistent consumers might simply go elsewhere for goose down and wild coyote fur parkas. It’s a delicate balancing act.

Regardless of its efficacy as an investment strategy, many investors don’t like to call themselves “activist,“ according to cfo.com, because activist investing is just one style among many, and while growing in popularity, less than 10 percent of 8,800 hedge funds worldwide were activist.

Visit elliottmgmt.com or peta.org for more information about the shareholder activitsts discussed in this article.

This article published in the Fall 2017 edition of B2B.

Sarpy, Sarpy, Sarpy!

March 15, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In 1999, an online-banking company with a nonsensical name built a sprawling operation center next to the I-80 corridor on the edge of Papillion. Baffled passing commuters wondered how long a company named “PayPal” could possibly survive.

Six years later—to the delight of the region’s outdoor enthusiasts—Cabela’s opened a 128,000-square-foot sportsmen’s paradise that transformed the Cornhusker Street exit along I-80 into a bustling retail hotspot.

As the companies moved into the area, so did the employees, and the shoppers. Once boasting only sleepy rural charms, quaint main streets, and Offutt Air Force Base mystique, Nebraska’s smallest county by land mass is now also its fastest growing.

Indeed, while the rest of the state lost 3% of its population (or 55,000 people) between 2010 and 2014, Sarpy County added 13,000 people—an 8% increase.

How did it happen? Is there something to be learned by Nebraska’s other 92 counties?

Sarpy’s formula was a mix of nature and nurture: Aggressive leaders with vision and a willingness to deal. The good fortune of having open land next to a major metropolitan area and one of the nation’s major east-west corridors. Lots of nearby suburbanites with cash. Also, an educated work force within driving distance.


It was a perfect economic storm that even pulled off the outrageous and unthinkable: Dragging the Omaha Royals into the suburban Sarpy playground of the Omaha Stormchasers.

And now, in 2016, it’s all about synergy. Momentum. Winning begets more winning.

Ernie Goss, a Creighton University professor of economics, says that when county leaders are successful in building a concentration of development like the one in Sarpy County, it becomes a catalyst for more growth.

“There’s the impact of what we call clustering, Goss says.

The perpetual motion machine is paying off for the county and state. PayPal alone generated $736,930.00 in tax revenue in 2014, more than any other commercial business in the region.

Goss says the presence of PayPal and Cabela’s, among others, has undoubtedly propelled more development. After all, people want to be where the jobs and rooftops are.

There’s a lot to be said for clustering and that’s what we’re seeing out there,” he says.

Embassy Suites Conference Center in La Vista, developed in 2004, has brought in tourism dollars from conventions and weddings. Those tourism dollars also mean more people viewing the city, which builds awareness of the hotel and convention center, which, of course, increases chances that people will spread the word to other shoppers and convention organizers.

Goss says the boom will continue as long as the benefits of providing essential services—such as sewers and roads—in support of new development exceeds the marginal costs. Once those infrastructure elements are in place, he says, the marginal costs tend to decrease and that, in turn, spurs more development.

“It’s the initial development that’s very costly in providing things like fire and police services and other government services.”

Typically, he says, providing services becomes cheaper as the area grows more densely populated. That’s what’s happening in Sarpy County, where a growing resident and business tax base is helping make development cost effective.

The area also benefits from ready access to interstate highways that feed into the Omaha-Lincoln metroplex. Goss says Sarpy is situated just enough outside the urban congestion sprawl to give it a semi-country, away-from-it-all appeal while being near enough to still share in the big city orbit.


“It has a lot to do with interstate access,” he says.

And convenience.

“A lot of folks out west of Omaha find it easier driving to a conference at the Embassy Suites in La Vista than having to drive to the Embassy Suites in the Old Market,” Goss says. “That’s certainly part of it.”

All this growth, too, has come amid a national economy that has generally lagged. But, as the economy sputters, interest rates remain low. In the environment of the last decade, the cost and major development has remained lower as interest rates continue to hover around 4%.

The surge is not slowing.

La Vista anticipates yet another spike once the Nebraska Multisport Complex is built on 184 acres to encompass a natatorium with Olympic regulation pools, an indoor-outdoor tennis center, and soccer fields with field turf and lighting. The facilities will be available to local teams, clubs, schools, and nonprofits. Hosting regional-national tournaments is a massive money generator as families follow players for long weekends of play. Projections estimate the complex would generate $17.8 million in new economic impact and attracting 1.2 million visitors annually.

The win streak extended down the road to the edge of Gretna, where the massive Nebraska Crossing Outlets defied the doubters by doing $140 million in sales in its first year of operation. Within a year of its 2013 opening, the $112 million, 335,000-square-foot mall featuring buzz-worthy brand name stores was planning a major expansion. A new $15 million complex of stores is scheduled to open by Christmas.

Karen Gibler, president of the Sarpy County Chamber of Commerce, says there soon will be announcements about coming neighborhoods and businesses spurred by the new Highway 34 bridge, 84th Street developments, new I-80 exits, and planned sewer and transportation projects.

Gibler cites many reasons why investors and residents choose to work and live there:

“Quality of education and life keeps residents looking to move into our area,” she says. “This growth has opened the eyes of developers. Our leadership in the cities and county are a contributing factor. Land availability and easy access to good highways and the interstate make it easy to access from around the area.” Smart planning helps, as do plentiful jobs and affordable home prices. And people feel safe.”

That success has brought recognition. Papillion now ranks second on Money Magazine’s Best Places to Live for its high median income ($75,000), job growth (10%), thriving cultural life, and great access to the big-city amenities of Omaha.

National awards show up in national magazines and websites. People and companies looking for good homes read about this happenin’ place called Sarpy County in Nebraska.

And so, the wheels of progress keep on turning.

Once you can get it going, Goss says, “one activity draws another activity or one company draws another company.

“They have it all going in the right direction right now,” Goss says.