Amantha Dickman, News Director: You’re listening to “KZUM News” on 89.3 KZUM Lincoln and KZUM HD.

[Fades in on the “KZUM News” program music, an original production of Jack Rodenburg. After playing the introduction, the music fades out.]

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Good afternoon and welcome to today’s edition of “KZUM News,” an hour dedicated to learning more about what is going on in Lincoln and the surrounding areas. I am the News Director, and your host, Amantha Dickman.

Today, we’re going to learn more about the 2022 Economic Development Breakfast and the recently received $23.6 Million grant to build a multimodal transportation center. But, as usual, we’re going to start out with some relatively breaking news.

Last week, we had a brief update on national news regarding the overturn of Roe v. Wade. If you happened to miss that episode, I’ll give you a summary: President Biden signed an Executive Order which he proclaimed would begin the process of protecting access to reproductive health care services. Additionally, the House of Representatives voted to pass two different bills that expanded on President Biden’s goal of codifying abortion access into federal law.

 As we noted at the time, our newsroom was still waiting for Governor Ricketts to make a public statement about his plans for Nebraska. Luckily, we only had to wait another day or two.

On Monday, August 8, it was announced that Governor Ricketts had received a letter from Speaker of the Legislature, Mike Hilgers. This letter indicated that there are not enough votes to pass legislation banning abortion in Nebraska. Governor Ricketts went on to release the following statement:

“It is deeply saddening that only 30 Nebraska state senators are willing to come back to Lincoln this fall in order to protect innocent life. The proposal to change Nebraska’s state law that prohibits abortions starting at 20 weeks and reduce that to 12 weeks is a measured, reasonable step to protect more preborn babies in our state.                                                   

Right now, babies in Nebraska can be aborted up to 20 weeks. At this age, babies are nearly fully formed. They can kick, swallow, hear and respond to sounds outside the womb. They suck their thumbs. They can feel pain. And as medical advancements continue, more and more babies born at this stage can survive premature births and go on to live vibrant lives. Under Nebraska’s current law, these babies can still be killed before they have that chance.”

Governor Ricketts then continues on to say:

“Most of the free world has more reasonable abortion laws than Nebraska. Over 75 percent of countries around the world have placed restrictions on abortion at 12 weeks. Our 20-week abortion ban puts us in line with a narrow ten percent of countries – including countries like North Korea and China – that fail to protect preborn babies.

I ask all Nebraskans who are pro-life to look at the list of state senators who signed the letter. If your state senator is on that list, please call or email their office to thank them for their choice to stand with preborn babies. If your state senator is not on the list, please call or email them as well to encourage them to reconsider their decision on this reasonable change to Nebraska’s abortion laws.

This letter shows that elections have consequences. In our state, we must work to protect the most vulnerable, and that includes our preborn babies. There’s no more important issue. We cannot achieve equality for all if we silence human beings before they even have a voice.

The senators’ letter shows we don’t have the 33 votes needed to pass legislation to protect more preborn babies. For this reason, I will not be calling a special session. Nebraskans need to have more conversations on the value we place on human life so more meaningful protections can be passed in our state.

As Governor, I will continue doing whatever I can in my power to affirm the rights of preborn babies and to support pregnant women, children, and families in need.” 

If you are just tuning in, you just heard Governor Rickett’s statement regarding his decision to not call for a special session to ban abortion in Nebraska due to a lack of votes to pass legislation. Before we move on, we do want to clarify for listeners that Governor Ricketts made several biological claims for which there is little to no substantiated scientific evidence. Because of this, we cannot verify how accurate those claims are. As such, we do encourage you to do more reading on the subject if you have the time and means to do so.

With that update out of the way, we have some relatively breaking news this afternoon.

To start out, on August 8 the City Council unanimously approved a new contract that will make the Lincoln Police Department the highest paid in the state. It is a three-year contract that includes salary increases and improvements to LPD’s benefits package representing about $3.2 million for the first year of the Mayor’s proposed biennial budget and nearly $5 million in the second year.

And, while we’re talking about LPD, KZUM News attended the National Night Out event on August 2. We joined Officer Hein of the Lincoln Police Department to learn more about their collaboration with the Lincoln Fire Department and the F Street Community Center to host the event.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: And can you tell listeners a little bit about the National Night Out? What it is, how often is it held?

Officer Hein, Lincoln Police Department: National Night Out is an annual event where neighborhood organizations have little social gatherings like this. It’s a good opportunity for people to come out, meet their neighbors, see some of the services that are offered by some of the community. Um, I can’t think of it right now. Some of the community facilities.

This has been going on for several years and it’s, you know, it’s as simple as a cookout, like this, or, you know, get together and have root beer floats. I know [that is] one of the organizations Northeast did last year. Uh, it’s just a good opportunity where people are encouraged to go out and meet other people.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Absolutely. And Lincoln Police Department and the Lincoln Fire Department are both here today. I hear that you gave tours of the fire truck earlier.

Officer Hein, Lincoln Police Department: Well, the fire guys did that. I can show you guys one of the cruisers if you want.

But yeah, we show up to a lot of these with LFR, and [they’re a] pretty good partner right there. They show up and help us out quite a bit. And I hope they would say the same for.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Sure. And I’m assuming that part of the reason you come to these events is because getting involved with the community is really important as part of your job. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Officer Hein, Lincoln Police Department: Yeah. This to me is a good opportunity for people to see that police can be there in the good times, not just the bad. We can show up on a good day for you. We don’t always have to just be the people that are there when you’re at your worst or your lowest. We can come out and have some fun with you and interact in a good social way and, and have a positive.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: That was Officer Hein talking about what National Night Out is. While Lincoln hosted National Night Out at multiple locations this year, we attended the downtown location and met with Jean Gerlach, the center director for the F Street Community Center.

Jean Gerlach, F Street Community Center Supervisor: I’m Jean Gerlach.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: And can you tell me what your position is here with the F street community center?

Jean Gerlach, F Street Community Center Supervisor: I am the F Street Community Center’s supervisor.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Absolutely. Now, National Night Out is a once-a-year event that helps promote police and community camaraderie and neighborhood camaraderie.

Jean Gerlach, F Street Community Center Supervisor: Yes.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Can you tell me a little bit about F Street’s history with National Night Out?

Jean Gerlach, F Street Community Center Supervisor: Well, unfortunately, this is my first year in this position for National Night Out.

 I know that they’ve had lots of different groups come in and we’re just very fortunate to have the police substation very close to us. And, so, it’s nice that they could come in there, hanging out with us. And the fire department just got a call, so they had to leave, which that’s what they do. So, we can’t be upset about that.

 So, otherwise, it’s trying to bring neighbors together and just, you know, know that we are a safe place, a safe haven. We have the security of the police department and the fire department as well.

 Amantha Dickman, News Director: Now you mentioned that community camaraderie is like… a really big thing of National Night Out and particularly of the F Street Community Center. Can you tell me a little bit about the importance of having tight-knit neighborhoods and getting to know your neighbors?

 Jean Gerlach, F Street Community Center Supervisor: Yeah. I think it’s because everybody needs things. Everybody. Especially with the pandemic and everything coming out from it. We need to just count on each other and know that it’s okay and ask for help. And that’s what we would like people to do. If they need some help to come; we will give them the resources or we’ll give them what they need. Cause we have a… there are a lot of resources here in Lincoln and we share that with them, to help them with that. So.

 Amantha Dickman, News Director: And National Night Out, as I mentioned, is a once-a-year event. Can you tell me about what day it always falls on?

 Jean Gerlach, F Street Community Center Supervisor: It’s the first Tuesday in August. So today is the second. So next year, whatever, that might be the first. So, but it’s the first Tuesday of the month.

 Amantha Dickman, News Director: So, listeners should mark that on their calendar.

 Jean Gerlach, F Street Community Center Supervisor: Yes. For next year, it’s the first Tuesday in August 2023.

 Amantha Dickman, News Director: Absolutely. And will the F Street Community Center be hosting an event next year as well?

 Jean Gerlach, F Street Community Center Supervisor: Most definitely.

 Amantha Dickman, News Director: Absolutely. Excellent. Thank you so much.

 That was Jean Gerlach, talking about what community means to the F Street Community Center and plans for next year’s event.

 And, lastly, we had the chance to sit down with Pastor Jeff Heerspank of the F Street Neighborhood Church who attended the event.

 Pastor Jeff Heerspank, F Street Neighborhood Church: Yeah. So, my name is Jeff Heerspank.

 Amantha Dickman, News Director: And they mentioned you were a pastor. Are you a pastor for a church here in the F Street Community Center Area? Or…

 Pastor Jeff Heerspank, F Street Neighborhood Church: Yeah, we’re directly across from the F Street Community Center. In fact, we’re F Street Neighborhood Church, because we didn’t want to be F Street Community Church right across from the rec center.

 Amantha Dickman, News Director: We just both came from the F Street Community Center where they are celebrating the National Night Out. Can you tell me a little bit about the importance of National Night Out and what the event aims to do?

 Pastor Jeff Heerspank, F Street Neighborhood Church: Yeah. So, the hope is always just to connect people in the neighborhood as a whole, but also with the police, with the first responders, firefighters, et cetera.

 And, so, I think it’s just a great opportunity for that to happen. And I think that is important because I think often our police are people who are out there serving on our behalf. You know, I think especially even all the more is there’s a lot of distrust in organizations as a whole, specifically the police department and there’s reasons behind that. But that doesn’t mean just like anything, not all police officers, by any means, are bad. And most of them are here trying to help and serve. So, getting to know them, build relationships with them, just building community as a whole is important, right? Because if we’re all individuals, we’re never gonna see the change happen in this neighborhood versus if we’re working together to support one another and value one another.

A lot of that comes out of relationships. When we know each other, then you know, there’s a smile, naturally, there’s an engagement, there’s a connection. There’s a willingness to go the extra step for people. And I think that’s important.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Sure. And when it comes to building those community trust, as you mentioned, there’s a lot of distrust, especially in the last couple years, of law enforcement, of media members. What sort of things do you think that our organizations can do to take steps to help build that trust, besides these community events?

Pastor Jeff Heerspank, F Street Neighborhood Church: Well, I think it is these community events and I think it’s taking time.

I mean, you know, building those relationships takes time on both parties’ experiences, right? So, it’s like, for us as our church, like we host block parties. It’s just to create a space. Like, so last weekend, we had tacos and we had probably 200 people show up and you’re just feeding people with the hope to engage and connect. You know, bring a smile, build a relationship, and value one another. And I think that’s when we learn. Because most of us, well, we’re all humans at the end of the day. And we all want to be valued as well as I think. Ultimately, we do want to value one another. And, so, a lot of, even the things we’re fighting over, often in our communities, although they’re legitimate and intentionally great causes, like sometimes some of the people, you know, like in cases of the police, are often seen as the bad people. And, of course, there’s been bad police officers, but I think in bad scenarios and bad circumstances, bad situations. But, again, a lot of them are healthy people. So just the more we can foster those.

And I think it’s just taking time. I mean and I would say that is a two-way street. I think sometimes the police are busy. They’re caught up. They’re trying to go to another call or they’re worn out from a 12-hour shift of running around. So how do we just be friendly and let them be? But at the same time, how do we build that relationship being kind to them versus always treating them with distrust and disrespect? Right? So trust is a two-way street. I gotta start trusting other people if we’re gonna see trust happen.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: As we mentioned before, National Night Out is an annual event that looks to build community ties. It is the first Tuesday in August, so keep that in mind for next year.

Next up, class is in session. The new school year begins on Monday, August 15.

In preparation, the Lincoln Police Department asks drivers to be cautious during the 7 to 8 a.m. and 3 to 4 p.m. time frames. These are the busiest times for children traveling to and from school. They are encouraging community members to keep a lookout for school zones, particularly when the flashing yellow lights are on. Slow down in these areas and watch out for pedestrians and buses.

Lincoln Public Schools also have some announcements in honor of the new year. On July 29, Superintendent Dr. Paul Gausman shared the updated Safe Return to School Plan for the 2022-23 school year. Here he is now to share the plan with us.

Dr. Paul Gausman, Superintendent of Lincoln Public Schools: So today going to spend a little time talking with you about the district’s planning and processes related to the pandemic.

You know, obviously, the pandemic is still with us. It’s been a long journey to get to this point, but we’ve got a bit of a journey ahead of us. As we go, the guiding priorities for us, I think are most important. And the number one guiding priority is to keep our schools open. We know that students learn best when they’re with the staff members, often in the very same room and doing all that they can together to move education forward. And, so, number one, we’ve gotta keep our schools open.

Obviously, in addition to that, we’ve got to keep all of our staff members safe, our students safe, and families. But in addition to that, we have this opportunity, because of the pandemic, to use this time to show students how adults work through challenging situations in life. And we don’t want to miss that opportunity.

And, so, as we move forward to begin the school year we have put in place a targeted process for those who might wear masks. And that’s to say that anyone who wants to wear a mask may wear a mask. We certainly don’t discourage anyone from wearing a mask. But separate from that, we are not going to make a universal mask mandate decision, whether to wear them or not to wear them for the entirety of the district.

I ask you all to understand that we’re 131.41 square miles in the Lincoln Public Schools. We’ve got some 70-plus buildings. We’ve got over 8 million square feet of instructional space. And what is badly needed in one section of town might not be as necessary in another section. And, so, we believe at this time, the right process is to use this targeted. We are working very closely and have continued to work closely with Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department. And they’ve been such a great support to us. And we even met with them this week and continued to share our protocol and planning with them. And they endorsed that and seemed to believe that we’re, we’re doing the right things.

But we also want to be very cognizant that things can change. And, should we see a spike of challenges and illness in a certain building, a certain classroom, a certain hallway, we may change the decision for that particular portion of our community. And, so, you know, I want to be very clear as it relates to that regarding masking.

We also are communicating with our staff members today just about the protocol for Covid-19 moving forward. You know, there were times where we were sending out daily quantities of positive tests and those sorts of things. We’ve moved to a dashboard so that anyone who wants the information can get that information. But we are not going to inundate them with emails about that every single day as we once needed to do earlier in this pandemic. And so very proud coming from the outside to see how this team has handled the pandemic thus far. I think they’ve done it very well. I think the partnerships in this community have been very strong and I just hope to be a part of the team moving it forward, in this new era of the changes and the ways the pandemic is rolling forward.

And with that, I’d take any questions you might have, please.

Unknown Reporter: What do those conversations maybe with the health department look like? Have they expressed any concern about a possible spike when headed back to school?

Dr. Paul Gausman, Superintendent of Lincoln Public Schools: Yeah. You know, the numbers that we’ve seen, we’ve had the blessing of having a number of students in summer school, and, so, you know, this district when having summer school is still one of the largest districts in the state. Thousands of students and staff who are in and we’ve been able to track some of their, you know, inner relations and illnesses as it went through there. And at this time, we don’t have reason to believe that the protocol needs to be strengthened beyond what we’re doing right now and the same protocol that I’m sharing with you today.

So, I think we’re in strong shape. When we talked with the health department, they were supportive, not only of what we’ve done through the summer but what we are planning to do as we start school on August 15.

Unknown Reporter:  Can you take me through what the protocol should look like if a teacher or a student gets Covid-19, how long maybe you recommend that isolation period should be, and what reporting maybe should look like?

Dr. Paul Gausman, Superintendent of Lincoln Public Schools: Yeah, that’s correct.

And we’re sending all of that out in communication to our families and to our staff. You know, I won’t give you the exact numbers right now off the top of my head, cuz I don’t want to get them wrong, even in error.

But we still have protocol for staff to notify us of the illness. And we’ve changed the way in which we’re doing some of the masking protocols. I’ve already addressed our own team. And I should say how much we appreciate our own nursing team here in this district. And the great work that they’ve done, are doing different protocol as it relates to.

We’re not doing as much in contact tracing as we once would’ve done, as an example, and notifying others that they’ve been around someone who has reported to us that they’ve tested positive and that sort of thing. But we are still having a structure in place that will allow for that communication so that we can keep people safe.

Unknown Reporter:  You know, last year, it felt like the rules sort of went back and forth over the course of the year. Do you see this as sort of the new permanent, perhaps, procedure as far as masking? Sort of building by building, classroom by classroom, philosophy.

Dr. Paul Gausman, Superintendent of Lincoln Public Schools: Yeah. You know, Zach, I appreciate that question.

And I do suspect that this is the new normal for us for the time being you know, now that’s not to say, you know, this, if you recall, when this pandemic started, you know, I want to think back around March 16, 2020… It’s amazing. I can remember the date and that’s because it was so impactful, you know, right here in this section of the country, so much impact right then and there, you know, the news was changing every couple of hours back in those days.

And then a little time went by and the pandemic was changing then, you know, maybe every day or two days, and then every week or two weeks, and now, you know, it appears to be on a slower course in terms of changing the way in which we’re doing things. And so I do suspect, for the time being, this will be our, you know, this targeted model for masking will be our mannerism for the protocol for the entirety of the district.

Now that’s not to say that we shouldn’t be vigilant and watch if there’s another strain that comes forward that we don’t even know about as I talk to you today. And it’s incredibly,  you know, fast-moving and, and that sort of thing, I, we certainly would make different decisions if that were the council of the health department. Separate from that though, I do believe this is the new norm.

We’re a large district with a lot of buildings, a lot of people in different locations, and we just wanna make certain we’re working to keep ’em all safe. 

Unknown Reporter: There’s also concerns about the amount of parents or the percent of parents that don’t want to vaccinate their children. Is LPS encouraging parents to vaccinate?

Dr. Paul Gausman, Superintendent of Lincoln Public Schools: Yeah. So, you know, right now that that’s part of the reason that we’re able to make these changes for the next school year and not have a universal mask mandate in place, is because there are different tools that are available to all families, in addition to masking. 

We know that masking works. I’m not arguing that it doesn’t but we’ve got other strategies that people can, and likely in many cases should put in place, such as the vaccine that’s available for anyone that’s going forward. And, certainly, as they decide whether to get a booster shot or a second booster shot at a certain age or at a certain level of immunocompromised status that they, you know, would get all of those things done.

 I encourage all to do what’s right for them, by considering all of those tools that are available, such as vaccinations. And you know, we’ve looked at data even in our own board meetings. It’s really clear those who have the vaccine and the boosters that go with that, and those who have used the masks when there are large gatherings of people have been successful at preventing the real challenges of this virus having a significant outbreak. And, so, certainly, we know that that’s a tool that’s available. We want our families to know that that’s available to them and encourage them to make the decision that’s right for them. 

Unknown Reporter: Are you able to track how many teachers and students have been vaccinated building by building? Does that play a part of the calculus for deciding?  

Dr. Paul Gausman, Superintendent of Lincoln Public Schools: Yeah. You know, early on, as I recall from, even before I worked here, Zach, this district sent out some sort of questionnaire. I don’t know exactly how they did it, in terms of who might be interested in receiving a vaccine when it became available. But that was the end of that, as I understand it.

And the district does not track who has been vaccinated, who is not; there’s not a requirement of our staff or students. You know, certainly, there are places all over the community where it’s available to them should they desire to achieve that but we do not track that number. 

Unknown Reporter: Another question that I had: LPS has different students from different nationalities or that come from different parts of the world. For example, I’m Hispanic, my first language is Hispanic. What are the things that LPS is doing to tell this all also to this community? 

Dr. Paul Gausman, Superintendent of Lincoln Public Schools: Oh, sure. And I appreciate that question. 

You know, we have students in this district from over a hundred different countries nationwide, we have over 130 home languages spoken in this district. And due to federal guidelines, we communicate in the pronounced languages that represent our student population. So we do that as just part of our protocol and you know, certainly, we’ve got team members within our district who communicate throughout in different languages as well.

Our website has features and functions available so that people can get, you know, should they have connectivity and get to that, they can access that in their home languages as well. And so we try to do everything that we can, but we acknowledge that the Lincoln Public Schools are really a global organization. And we’re welcoming students from all over the world nearly every day, certainly every week, in this community. And we’ve gotta continue to do our part to serve them as they come forward to be a part of our team. 

Unknown Reporter: You mentioned that sort of worst-case scenario, if there’s a new variance, God forbid that happens. But in that case, would you rule out bringing back universal masks?  

Dr. Paul Gausman, Superintendent of Lincoln Public Schools: Oh, I wouldn’t rule anything out at this point in time. You know, what this pandemic has taught us is to be flexible, to give each other grace and patience as we work to figure out what’s best. So the question is, you know, we’ve got this targeted model in place. Does that mean we will never go back to a universal mask mandate? And the answer I’d give today is no, I can’t say that with certainty. 

We’re tracking this progression of Covid-19. And you know, right now we’re confident that when we talk to the medical experts, to the health department, that our decision is a sound one for now.

And that the targeted masking is the best strategy. But with that goal of keeping our schools open, if something were to change, if there were a variant and universal masking were necessary and recommended, we certainly will consider that when that time comes. I’m hopeful that it doesn’t come at all. And at this time I don’t predict it but we’ll move forward with this targeted model for the time. 

Unknown Reporter: How does something like athletics play into a protocol when it’s kind of out of the district’s hand, if you’re playing another district that maybe has more relaxed Covid-19 guidelines, what are maybe those conversations with the athletic department or student-athletes going to look like on maybe keeping safe or when to report if they think they have. 

Dr. Paul Gausman, Superintendent of Lincoln Public Schools: Yeah. You know, while we have those conversations with the other districts, you’re absolutely correct in that every district has maybe just a little tweak or change to their own protocol, much of it is the same. However, and yet within the athletics, the arts, the activities, we have to recognize that the performance aspect of that or the competition aspect of that is voluntary.

 And so if, you know, families have challenges with their own student engaging in a cross-state competition of some kind. That’s something, I guess, that they will have to consider and make decisions that work best for them. We have great partnerships with the districts that are not only in the conferences and other groups that we belong to. And we’re confident that they’re doing similar things, if not the exact same things that we are. But certainly, this is something to watch as we move. 

Unknown Reporter: Like every decision you make, there might be people that are okay with it. And there might be people that don’t like those decisions. What can you say to those parents that are still concerned or maybe are not liking those decisions?

Dr. Paul Gausman, Superintendent of Lincoln Public Schools: Like… with respect to the masking? 

Unknown Reporter: Yeah, to the masking. 

Dr. Paul Gausman, Superintendent of Lincoln Public Schools: Okay. Yeah. I just wanted to make certain I understood your question. You know, I am hearing from parents on all different sides of this issue. And very often when I hear from them, it’s a very passionate plea to either do something more assertively or to do something far less assertively. And they all seem to believe that, you know, their perspective is the most accurate perspective. And, frankly, at times it appears that they believe it’s the only perspective that should be in the room at any given point in time. 

The truth of the matter is we don’t make decisions based on those communications.

 That way… what we’ve gotta do is develop guiding priorities. Such as our number one priority here, we’ve got to keep our schools open and, based on that being our priority and that we want to keep all safe, we’ll work with the district health department, excuse me, to make decisions that will yield those outcomes.

We are not stopping anyone from wearing a mask. If they would like to wear a mask, we are not directing anyone. They must wear a mask at this point in time at any location. And I haven’t said that yet today, you know, there is not, I’ve indicated we’re using a targeted model. There is not currently a place in Lincoln, that we know of, that is such a target that they will begin the year in masks. 

And so you know, we respect everyone’s opinion. We know that people are passionate about this. We’re thankful they have their students in our schools. We want to serve them and their students well, but at this point in time, we’re gonna use our guiding priorities to make our decisions.

 Amantha Dickman, News Director: We just heard Superintendent Dr. Paul Gausman discussing the new Safe Return to School Plan for the 2022-23 school year. Shortly after, on August 5, Dr. Gausma announced plans to delay the opening of Robinson Elementary School due to ongoing construction. The new start date is August 29.

Now, we’re going to take a quick break. Afterward, we are going to focus our attention on the 2022 Economic Development Breakfast that happened and the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce’s economic vitality survey, which they are encouraging the community to complete. So stay tuned to learn more.

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And welcome back to KZUM News.

On July 22, the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce held the 2022 Economic Development Breakfast. The event featured keynote speaker Alex Pearlstein from Broad Ripple Strategies, as he discussed aspects of the Chamber and Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development’s Economic Vitality Strategic Plan.

Even though KZUM News did attend the event, we ran into some technical difficulties that day, and, unfortunately, our audio came out a garbled mess. But Chris Whitney, the communication Coordinator for the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce was kind enough to send over a clip from Alex Pearlstein’s keynote address. Here is Pearlstein now:

Alex Pearlstein, Keynote Speaker at the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce Economic Breakfast: There’s progress working together as success.

And so you see it in communities that have implemented plans. You see it in this community with the vision process and the outcomes that result. So what we’re doing today is the beginning. And we’re gonna stay together and we’re gonna work together to develop a vitality strategy that’s really gonna take this community to the next level.

And you see these consistencies in communities that have been successful in implementing economic development plans. Holistic focus, willingness to take on the hard issues, develop resources and capacity. 

When you’re, when you’re talking about an aggressive aspirational plan, there’s gonna be resources that are demanded. You’re gonna need champions to help advance things, that might sort of take people out of their comfort zone and measure the traffic of success. What does this, what does success look like? What does mean? How aggressing on our path to success and when do we pivot? When do we acknowledge that, that we sort of have to reassess what we’re doing and, and make that adjustment?

So, you know, again, take us to this exciting opportunity that we have today with the Lincoln economic vitality strategy. So we think that this is the opportunity to really establish a new legacy in Lincoln that, in the future economic development breakfast, will reference this process and reference the part that you all had to play in it, talking about the outcomes that have… that have been generated by this plan. And I think what’s important to acknowledge is that you are starting this process, as Jason said, from a position of strength. 

The very first project I ever worked on was in Austin, Texas in 2003. And they realized that some of their net migration was negative for the first time in decades. Their per income went down for the first time in decades and they realized they didn’t have a plan. So the First Opportunity Austin Plan was really just sort of acknowledging that we’re not doing economic development we have to get back in the game and we have people have to understand that is Austin’s one job. They got a call, the chamber and Austin, got a call from Toyota interested about talking about, you know, potential manufacturing. And they didn’t return the call because they didn’t think they needed jobs. So that first opportunity Austin was, was just walking and building the capacity to even do economic development. You are, you know, well beyond that. 

So, you’re starting from a position of being able to think about what can be aspirational, what can, what can be sort of like that next big week. And just in my day and a half in the community and getting a tour from Jason, and just talking to everyone about this community, at least from an outsider’s perspective, this feels like a community that is at that next level.

It’s interesting that you know, talking to some folks here already don’t necessarily have that same sort of confidence and sense that, “Hey, we’re like this it community, we are equivalent to what’s happening in Madison, we’re equivalent to what’s happening in some of these other places.” But at least driving around and seeing the cranes and seeing the vitality of this community, that’s the impression that I get. 

So I… it’s exciting to think about that. What’s next? What’s that next level? In addition to more people understanding what’s going on here. But what’s that next sort of step up in terms of this product that you’re building? So these are some of the questions that we’re gonna seek to answer through this process. And the conversation is gonna be with you all but the answers, I think, are gonna come from you all. 

Robert will… we… we typically will just sort of take what the community says and think about how can we craft into a plan, but communities really develop the strategies. That’s when they resonate the best, when they’re most successful.

So we’re gonna think about how you can compete in this highly competitive market for talent. We’re gonna think about how you can be more recognized nationally as a community of choice. We’re gonna think about how you can acknowledge that growth is necessary and beneficial while still maintaining what makes this city so special. And this is our goal. Our goal is to come to some consensus around the vision that takes Lincoln out of its comfort zone a little bit. To think about, well, maybe we didn’t think that this was something that was possible here. Well, maybe it is. Let’s try it. Let’s sort of push that envelope that establishes priorities to take sort of the next big leap to become that community that’s really known across the country as a destination of choice and importantly to align partners, not only internally, whether it’s the chamber or the partner, but align partners public, private, institutional. You’ve got this, you know, the tremendous asset of the university here. So how can we sort of sing from the same song sheet to a certain degree and pursue implementation of this strategy as a team, as a network?

This is the process that we’ll be engaging in; it’s about seven months, four phases. We have a very, very highly regarded steering committee that’s been put together to shepherd this process. We start with talking to people. We start with doing research or talking to people and we’ll, we’ll talk about that in just a second.

The assessment, the research report is really the why. Why do we really need to do something strategically? The strategic plan itself is the what. What are we going to do strategically and then the implementation guidelines are the how are we gonna do it? 

So we are gonna take the steering committee through every phase of this process. And you, as the community, have a critical role to play. First… firstly, in terms of the survey that’s, that’s now available for anyone who wants to lend their voice to us. You have a QR code on the program. That’ll take you directly to the survey. This is where you can find the link to the chamber site. Their social media is going to send links with consistent detailed reports over the next few weeks. So we want to set some records here. At least in terms of my career, 19 or so years, the highest response rate that we’ve ever had on a survey was 6,500. I want to challenge you all to exceed that record.

So you know, we, again, we’ve laid down the gauntlet here. We’re gonna try to break that record. So that means please send the link to strategy, tell people you know about it. The more people that respond, just the stronger the research is gonna be and the stronger the plan is gonna be. 

I want to end with this quote, and Jason referenced it earlier, from Peter Drucker who is sort of considered to be a management guru.

“The best way to predict the feature is to create.”

And I think it’s, it’s especially true in a process like this. You really have to own the change. Here is another quote; “Change is debilitating when it’s done to us, but exhilarating when it’s done by us.” And this is really your opportunity to dream big and to aim high.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: And that was part of Alex Pearlstein’s keynote address at the 2022 Economic Development Breakfast. After the event, Chris Whitney had the opportunity to sit down with Jason Ball, the President of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, to discuss the Economic Vitality Report and ongoing survey.

Chris Whitney, Communications Coordinator for the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce: So this process with the survey breakfast here today, how long will this process play out now that that survey is available?

Jason Ball, President of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce: So from the start of the survey, we’re gonna have about a seven-month process from beginning to end for our visioning process, strategic plan, and recommendations on implementation.  

Chris Whitney, Communications Coordinator for the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce: So where and where can people go to fill out this survey? 

Jason Ball, President of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce: Yeah, we’re inviting anyone and everyone in the community of Lincoln to please go to lcoc.com. That’s the chambers website. Right there on the landing page, there’s a box on the right that says ‘economic survey’. Just click on that. It’ll take you right into the survey.

Again, that’s lcoc.com, on the landing page and look for the box on the right that says ‘economic survey.’ 

Chris Whitney, Communications Coordinator for the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce: Now you’ve had some time to kind of digest all of this and go through the process a little bit, what’s you know, as you look toward the future, what, ideally, will these results show for Lincoln as a community? 

Jason Ball, President of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce: Well, I’m hoping to see several things out of this process. 

One, we want a comprehensive set of objectives and strategic plan for the Lincoln chamber, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, which drives tourism in our community, and the Lincoln partnership for economic development. All of those entities function together to drive economic vitality. 

So. We want organizationally to have a good, solid strategic plan, but we also want to identify big community objectives that the business community should either be leading on or heavily involved in supporting. And, so, here I’m talking about things like Lincoln’s Second Source for Water, which is similar to say… the Antelope Valley Project that we did. We’re working with potential convention center sites, perhaps that ends up as an objective. So large community objectives that are gonna drive Lincoln forward to its next version are also gonna be included in this plan. And we’re so excited to see what pops out of it because it is going to be driven by our community and our leadership that knows this community the best. 

Chris Whitney, Communications Coordinator for the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce: Alex Perlstein mentioned in his presentation that Lincoln was, probably, in a better position than most when it comes to thinking about the future and where it currently stands economically. Why is something like this necessary if Lincoln is in a pretty good spot right now? 

Jason Ball, President of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce: So Lincoln has the luxury that we are able to drive economic vitality from a position of strength right now, and times have been good.

We do have a strong economy in Lincoln. And so that’s wonderful, but we also know that if, if we’re not growing, we’re gonna end up shrinking somehow. And those are the painful types of conversations. We also know that economic conditions change and markets change. And, so, just because times are good right now does not mean that they will be in perpetuity.

So communities that take the time to do a strategic plan are actually guiding and creating the change that they want to see happen in their community. That just means we’re being proactive. That just means we’re trying to aim high. And even if we don’t meet all of those high-set goals, we have still advanced this community forward and that makes us more robust and resilient as times go on through future economic uncertainties. 

Chris Whitney, Communications Coordinator for the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce: Looking at this right now, just to wrap up, where does it seem like there might be the most opportunity for Lincoln to grow as a community? Is it with those large-scale projects that have been talked about and maybe come to fruition in previous, you know, surveys and recommendations? Is that kind of where you feel like maybe that’s where the opportunity is for Lincoln to expand and grow? 

Jason Ball, President of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce: You know, I… we’re gonna let the process guide that answer. And so we’re still trying to determine where best we’re gonna see growth in the community. And, again, I think it’s gonna be market conditions that inform what the business community tells us through this process.

I have my own unique perspectives on what I think should happen. I think each of our board members does as well, but this isn’t a plan just about what any individuals think. We really have to go through the process of what there is, at least some degree, of shared consensus about. So that’s, what’s gonna guide us.

I do hope that there are some large you know, Pinnacle Bank Arena or Antelope Valley Project type of objectives that we can identify as needs for Lincoln’s community to drive us forward to the step.

Amantha Dickman, News Director If you have a moment to participate, you can find the link to that survey in today’s transcript at kzum.org under the “KZUM News” tab. Once again, thank you, again, to Chris Whitney for helping KZUM News out when our technology failed us.

We have another break and after that, we’re going live to learn more about the city of Lincoln’s plans to develop a multimodal transportation center.

[Fades in on the “KZUM News” between-segment music, an original compilation by Jack Rodenburg. The music fades out on the commercial break. Once again, the music fades in on the “KZUM News” between-segment music.]

And here we go with the final segment of today’s episode. Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird and Lincoln Transportation and Utilities announced that StarTran has been awarded a $23.6 million federal grant to design and build a new multimodal transportation center.

So let’s talk about it.

Leirion Gaylor Baird, Mayor of Lincoln: Thank you for joining us on short notice. We’re so excited to be here this morning.

We’re gathered on a truly historic day for our community, a day that could not have been reached alone. Which is why I wanna begin with gratitude. Gratitude, especially for our federal partners, particularly President Joe Biden and transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, for their leadership in enacting the bipartisan infrastructure law, a once-in-a-generation investment in our nation’s infrastructure and competitiveness. 

This law marks the largest federal investment in public transit in US history. And today, here in Lincoln, Nebraska, we will not miss the bus on that history. In fact, we are kicking things into high gear. 

I am thrilled to announce that our city’s public transit system, StarTran, has been awarded a $23.6 million grant to design and build a new multimodal transportation center. And this funding comes to us from the US Department of Transportation’s Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity- or RAISE – grant program. Like the program’s name, this grant will enable us to raise up this new center in downtown Lincoln and increase amenities and security for StarTran passengers and our team members in the general public.

And, while we’re all excited about the future that this opens up, it’s worth remembering hat StarTran provides wonderful service every day to our community. And for our drivers, it offers a stable, rewarding career. For many passengers, it’s a ride to their job, or school, or the doctor’s office. And, to our community, it’s cleaning up our air and reducing traffic congestion. And yet for many years, some in our community have sought an even better and bolder future for our public transportation. 

Today’s award is confirmation of the exceptional work that they’ve done to drive us toward that future. So I hope you will please join me in thanking our StarTrans staff, our StarTrans Advisory Board, and the Multimodal Transportation Center Advisory Committee for their efforts.

Getting this transportation center off the ground has been a concerted focus of mine since I became mayor and among the many proposed improvements of this center are restrooms for drivers and the public, an indoor climate-controlled passenger waiting area, new administrative offices for StarTran, and improved mobility by integrating multiple transportation modes including buses, and bikes, scooters, and walking for our pedestrians.

As we transition to this new center, we also advance another important transition. And that’s a transition where we accelerate several goals of our city’s climate action plan including reducing Lincoln’s greenhouse gas emissions by net 80 percent by 2050 and converting our city fleet to a hundred percent electric, renewable, or alternative fuels by 2040.

And already, today, you can see some of the buses behind me. Nearly two-thirds of StarTran buses are a part of this clean fleet and this new center will play a pivotal role in meeting this goal. A goal that also enhances our passenger experience, improves working conditions for our bus drivers, and helps our city save on gas and maintenance costs.

Now, here to talk about this exciting grant and what the funds are intended for here in Lincoln is Lincoln Transportation and Utilities director, Liz Elliott. Who I’d like to welcome up to the podium, Liz. Congratulations.

Liz Elliott, Director of Lincoln Transportation and Utilities: Thank you, mayor. 

I’m thrilled about this grant award and proud to be part of the group effort that it took to secure this funding. StarTran continues to be an essential transportation option that offers nearly 10,000 rides every day. We transport people of all ages to doctor’s appointments, jobs, schools, the grocery store, and more. 

This grant makes our dreams come true. As we take StarTran’s services along with a variety of other transportation options to the next level and begin building a state-of-the-art multimodal transportation center. This transportation hub will hold 18 bus space, include protected passenger boarding, better lighting, covered walkways, a waiting room, security and administrative offices. This project will also offer better separation between pedestrians and buses, which will increase safety for all and be more environmentally sustainable. 

New technology will also be included in the project with the ability to conduct quick electric charges during bus transfers, which will allow us to have our electric buses out on route all day long. 

As the mayor mentioned, this transportation center will also include bike racks, BikeLNK bikes, and ScooterLNK electric scooters. The goal is to have all transportation available at the center of the city. And this design will take Lincoln’s transit and transportation systems to the next level of service and encourage even more people to ride a variety of zero to low emissions, sustainable options. 

Lincoln’s multimodal transportation center will be located on the block of south 10th street between K and L streets. This effort will cost approximately $32.2 million, which includes the federal RAISE grant of $23.6 million, the value of land estimated at $8.3 million, and an additional nearly $842,000 in local funding. 

This achievement would not be possible without the support of many different entities including mayor Gaylor Baird, the Lincoln City Council, Lancaster County Board of Commissioners, Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, the University of Nebraska, StarTran Advisory Board members, Center for People in Need, Lincoln Housing Authority, Lincoln Metropolitan and Planning Organization, WSP and HDR. Thank you all for all of your help. 

And thank you, mayor. I’ll turn it over to you.

Leirion Gaylor Baird, Mayor of Lincoln: Thank you so much, Liz. 

And at this time I’d like to invite Mike Davis to come on up to the podium. He is our manager of StarTran.

Mike Davis, Manager of StarTran: Thank you, mayor. 

Speaking from my heart, this grant truly means so much to our department and to StarTran. These funds will go towards this important project that will continue to strengthen our economy by enhancing access to jobs and education. A cost-benefit analysis tells us that for every $1 spent, the project will provide $1 and 20 cents in benefit to our community.

StarTran will continue to collect public input through the final design process and seeks to ensure equity considerations in the design of the multimodal transportation. Not only is StarTran working to have its entire bus fleet run on alternative fuels, but this multimodal transportation center will make riding the bus and getting around Lincoln that much more enjoyable.

There’s a lot of work to be done and we can’t wait to get started. Thank you.

Leirion Gaylor Baird, Mayor of Lincoln: Well, thank you so much for your leadership, Mike, and to your team at StarTran. 

This is a really exciting day as we continue to move Lincoln forward. This is an exciting time for our dynamic community. The financial investments we are making like the Lincoln on the Move project, like the Green Light Lincoln project, and our collective investments exemplified by the dedication of our city staff and our residents, they’re paying off and they’re transforming our community for the better. A place we have reached, thanks to our StarTrans staff, Lincoln Transportation and Utilities team, and community members. And we are becoming that destination. We will really wanna thank our federal partners for helping us along this path.

Liz?

Liz Elliott, Director of Lincoln Transportation and Utilities: We hope to begin the design stage next year in 2023, and then hopefully start construction in 2024 and potentially be done by the end of 2025. 

Thank you all for being here today and helping us celebrate this huge milestone. So thank you.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: We are fast approaching the end of the hour, so here are your reminders for today:

 The KZUM newsroom is always open to hearing about any questions, concerns, suggestions, or even any story ideas that you want to share with us. All you have to do is give us a call at (402) 474 – 5086, extension line six. If you give us a call and we aren’t available, don’t forget to leave a voicemail. Or, if you aren’t much of a phone person, you can also find our social media handles and more newsroom information at kzum.org under that ‘About’ tab. 

Speaking of our website, if you happen to miss a show, you can always head to the “KZUM News” tab where we archive all of our shows and include a transcript with links to that day’s content. 

And, lastly, I just want to give a shout-out to Jack Rodenburg of the Rodenburg music experience. He put together all of the amazing original music that our news program uses. So, once again, thank you, Jack. 

That wraps up our reminders for now. As you head out into the world, I hope you have a lovely day. Thank you for listening and we hope you’ll join us next time. 

[Fades in on the “KZUM News” program music, an original production of Jack Rodenburg. The music fades out.]

You just finished listening to “KZUM News,” an original production of KZUM radio that airs every Saturday at 11:00 a.m. Coming up next is “Beta Radio,” so stay tuned.