Tag Archives: housing

The Silicon Trail

March 28, 2017 by

When United Airlines’ first daily nonstop service flight from Eppley Airfield to San Francisco International Airport eased away from the gate in September 2016, Randy Thelen made certain he had a seat.

The senior vice president for economic development at the Omaha Chamber of Commerce saw the importance of that 7 a.m. flight—believed to be the first regular nonstop service between the two cities in a quarter century. Shortly after 9 a.m., he was on the West Coast, in the fertile Silicon Valley, ready for business.

Despite Omaha’s firm footing in the Silicon Prairie—with tech giants like PayPal, Google, LinkedIn, and Yahoo all maintaining a significant presence in the metro—Omaha long struggled with a serious shortcoming when it came time to recruit more. The same shortcoming didn’t help local technology startups secure financial backing from the apparent over-abundance of thick wallet in the Bay area.

Getting from Silicon Valley to Omaha’s corner of the Silicon Prairie was more than a hassle. It usually required at least one connecting flight, stretching a three-hour nonstop flight into nearly a full day of airplanes and airports … and that’s the delay-free version.

“As much as we don’t want location to be a barrier, there’s a very real situation where Silicon Valley investors won’t fly somewhere if they have to switch planes,” says Dusty Davidson, the CEO and co-founder of Flywheel, an Omaha-based startup that builds and hosts WordPress websites. Davidson is also known for his role in creating Silicon Prairie News and one of the largest entrepreneurial tech conferences in the region, Big Omaha.

“It’s not the connection, it’s the time,” he adds.

The required connecting flights cast a pall over Omaha’s distinct advantage as a low-cost jewel compared to the Silicon Valley. Omaha’s lower cost of living and more affordable housing helps save companies on their largest expense: wages. Add in the various business incentives available from the state, along with a strong talent pool and sound infrastructure, and Omaha makes an attractive option for startup and established tech companies, with that notable exception.

“We came up short on the connectivity or on the flights in and out of Silicon Valley,” Thelen says.

Then United Airlines made San Francisco’s International Airport the nation’s 25th airport with regular nonstop flight services to and from Omaha. This spring, a 26th regular nonstop Omaha route will open between here and Houston via Southwest Airlines.

“Now, we’ve taken away that competitive disadvantage, and we’ve been able to promote it as an advantage,” Thelen says. “It really has changed the conversation as we try to continue to build that pipeline between here and Silicon Valley.”

“The ability to have direct service does have an impact on the businesses that choose to do business here,” says Nancy Miller, vice president of operations at Travel and Transport, a national travel booking company based in Omaha. “I think it helps Omaha businesses.”

That an airline would add a regular nonstop flight to San Francisco lends credence to claims of Omaha’s growth as a potential hub in the Silicon Prairie.

“The Omaha economy really seems to have been doing well over the last couple of years,” says Dave Roth, deputy executive director of the Omaha Airport Authority. “It’s just a really positive combination of Omaha and the airlines for those additional flights.”

Omaha has popped up on several national lists as a new hot spot for tech startups. SmartAsset named Omaha the best city in the nation to work in tech in 2015, and Nebraska has been No. 3 on Forbes’ list of Best States for Business for two years running.

Thelen used his first flight to the Silicon Valley to meet with a dozen tech companies, some who already have outposts in town, and few others he’d like see set up shop.

“For the cost of one hotel stay and a pretty simple flight in and out, you can get two full business days of work without the hassle of changing planes and the risk of getting delayed,” Thelen says. “The convenience of business travel just went up exponentially, and you can expect that connectivity to continue to grow.”

Executives headquartered in San Francisco can more easily visit and engage with their Midwestern operations. Or, employees based in Omaha can more efficiently meet with leadership in Silicon Valley. Officials at PayPal and LinkedIn—which employ about 2,800 and 300 people, respectively, in the Omaha area—say there is frequent travel between the Silicon Valley and their operations in Omaha, but exact figures were unavailable.

“To have firms like that, that now have much, much easier access back and forth, frankly it makes our location all that more integral to the operation because it’s a simpler connect now,” Thelen says.

He added: “That simple flight makes a big, big difference.”

And even homegrown startups can take advantage. They can get twice as much done on recruiting trips from the valley, whether they are looking for talent or financing.

Davidson, the CEO at Flywheel, says the increased connectivity will indeed make a big difference for local companies raising money. There still remains a lot of work to put Omaha “on the map” with more sources of local capital and slowing the export of the state’s top technology talent, to name a few.

“I don’t know that you’re able to look at [direct flights to San Francisco] and say, ‘Hey, look, we solved the problem,’” he says. “I think there’s 50 things that are contributing, and what you really want to do is, just one at a time, start whittling away.”

Visit omahachamber.org for more information.

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

Q&A: Ted and Jerry Ramm

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Builders Ted and Jerry Ramm have a long family legacy in residential construction. Several generations of Ramms have built homes in the Omaha metro, dating back over a century. Today, the brothers head up Ramm Construction, Inc. We asked Ted Ramm to share with us a bit about their business, their family history in the trade, and just what’s in store for home construction in the months to come.

Q: When did you and Jerry start Ramm Construction, Inc.? What kinds of homes do you build?

A: We established Ramm Construction in 1999. Both Jerry and I are owners. We build 20 or so homes per year in the Omaha area, specializing in ranch and two-story homes in the $250,000-$600,000 range. Our “Normandy” model home is at 3116 N. 192nd Ave. in the Elkhorn View Estates subdivision in Elkhorn.

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Q: Tell us a bit about your family history in the trade. How did you get your start?

A: Jerry and I were born into this business. We are actually four generations deep in homebuilding going back to the 1800s. Joseph Ramm, our great grandfather, moved to Omaha from Germany in 1905 and began a homebuilding business. His son, Al, continued the tradition, as did his son, Thomas Ramm, our dad. Dad built about 10 or so homes per year his entire career, right here in Omaha. In Dad’s business, we performed a big percentage of the work ourselves, including framing and finish carpentry, cabinets, roofing, exterior decks, siding, and hardware installation. We literally grew up on and around the jobsite. We were trained as carpenters in the business we love. Dad is an incredible role model.

Q: How do the two of you share the responsibilities of managing the family business?

A: I act as project manager on our homes. I oversee the sales, and I’m the customer’s start-to-finish contact, helping with design, pricing, design and finish selections, contract modification, customer support, etc. I have a Construction Management degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Jerry has 15 years’ experience running a framing crew and is an accomplished trim and framing carpenter. He performs most of the trim carpentry on our homes. Jerry’s duties also include acting as job superintendent. We both offer day-to-day supervision [at the jobsite].IMG_7986 (2) copy 2

Q: Who make up the majority of your clients? Have you focused on that segment of the market?

A: Our niche seems to be with young families. Both Jerry and I are married with children, and I feel like I can relate very well with young, growing families. We feature great family plans and build in many subdivisions in the Elkhorn area and West Omaha popular with young families. My mother has told me that it is a privilege to build homes for people…You are fulfilling a basic need of shelter and that is very special. I enjoy getting to know our customers and becoming part of their lives.

Q: What is your forecast for the Omaha housing market in the next year or so?

A: We are very bullish about the housing environment. We have experienced strong sales over the last six months or so, especially in the Elkhorn area. We are fortunate to offer lots in most of the Elkhorn neighborhoods, including the recently developed Andersen Meadows on 178th and Blondo, and Windgate Ranch, which will have buildable lots later this year. The combination of the low interest rates, an elevated housing demand, and the strong economy in Omaha make it a great time to build.20090828_cc_3178 copy

Q: Tell us a bit about the two of you personally, and what you’re involved in locally.

A: I was the 2011 Metro Omaha Builders Association president and a longtime board member. I’ve performed as both an estimator and project manager on multi-million-dollar commercial construction projects as well. I’ve also been mentor for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Midlands for 15 years, and been head coach of multiple kids’ sports teams, including soccer, basketball, and baseball. I currently coach my son’s sixth grade baseball team. I can’t wait for it to warm up and hit the baseball diamond! Jerry is married with two children. He’s an avid outdoorsman who enjoys fishing and hunting, as well as attending sporting events. He also likes to build things even in his spare time. He volunteers with Habitat for Humanity.