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  • Writer's pictureGraham Pansing Brooks

Building Back Better by Celebrating Our Nebraska-ness

Updated: Aug 10, 2020

The world is craving normalcy. A return to the routine. An opportunity to open again.

The weight of unemployment and closures is crushing. We’ve seen our local unemployment

increase from 2.5% to 9.5% over the last two months. The pressure to reopen the economy and

reinvigorate development is boiling over as our state and national authorities demand openings.

As arguments rage about the timeframe and methods in which reopenings and recovery should

occur, we are presented with an opportunity to thoughtfully and intentionally build back better.

In May, Mayor Gaylor Baird appointed a Recovery Task Force to provide recommendations

on ways that our community can begin to reopen and recover. I applaud the Mayor’s visionary

leadership through this crisis and decision to appoint Angie Muhleisen and Ava Thomas to lead

the Recovery Task Force. Together, their leadership, experience, and thoughtfulness will be of

immeasurable value.

As the Recovery Task Force explores what it will take to rebuild our community’s assets, wealth

and opportunities , they will likely look far and wide for inspiration. However, I hope the

Recovery Task Force will remember to embrace and celebrate the uniqueness of our local and

state community. I believe that many of the answers we seek already exist here in Lincoln.

In a time when we see the number of Americans giving to charity dropping to an historic low

(73% of Americans giving) , we also see Barb Bartle and the Lincoln Community Foundation

facilitate $6.9 million in contributions during Give to Lincoln Day this past Thursday. That

amount is more than a 25% increase over the previous record of $5.5 million raised in 2019. Stop

to let that sink in for a moment.

Lincoln is a place where hard work, integrity, and a welcoming spirit are practiced every day.

The desire to give back, support our community, and help a neighbor in need, are qualities

intrinsic to our Nebraska mentality. We express and exhibit a strong commitment and connection

to one another. That commitment is unique.

I hope the Recovery Task Force will celebrate this intrinsic mentality and encourage our

community to embrace this spirit even more. Too often, our midwest, self-deprecating, and

humble nature overshadows the uniqueness and truly amazing qualities that exist here in Lincoln

and across Nebraska. We must unapologetically lean into our Nebraska-ness because, despite the global chaos, great things are happening here. It’s time to double down on the Good Life.

Many task forces, studies, and initiatives have tried to address the challenges of workforce

development nationwide. The broken record of talent attraction and retention, youth attraction,

stemming the brain-drain, and the call for innovation will continue to be exhaustedly played on

repeat. Now, more than ever, the economic well-being of Lincoln and Nebraska hinges on the

ability of businesses to understand the challenges facing capitalism and an evolving workforce

while promoting its people.

Therefore, perhaps the most pressing questions for the Recovery Task Force are not the

short-term questions regarding reopening and recovery. Before they can answer those questions, I hope they first ask the critical question:

“Why do our businesses exist?”

Across the country, businesses are actively addressing this exact question as they increasingly

recognize the emergence of a new economic normal. One in which transparency and impact have

moved to the forefront. In Gallup’s 2017 study, State of the American Workplace, researchers

emphasize the connection between business mission alignment, employee engagement, and

increased profitability. In another study published in the book, Firms of Endearment, economic

research indicates that businesses with an identifiable purpose beyond profit substantially

outperformed their peers over a 15 year period. What these studies suggest is that mission and

purpose alignment in the corporate setting yields a direct impact on the retention rates,

engagement rates, and profitability of the business. Purpose, profit, and workforce development

are inextricably linked.

Many other Gallup surveys have highlighted a dramatic shift in employee expectations,

underscored by a desire for fulfillment in the workplace. Intentionally fueling purpose and

fulfillment in the workplace not only improves quality of life for employees, but serves as a

distinguishing factor for businesses. A competitive advantage , if you will.

There are countless local examples of businesses which have experienced success attracting and retaining highly engaged talent with an inspiring promise of fulfillment and purpose in the

workplace. It is a promise that our city can embrace. It is a promise that will help catalyze the

next generation of community oriented, purpose-driven entrepreneurs and business leaders. A

promise that can position Lincoln as the “Purpose-Driven Capital of America.”

Many Lincoln businesses already operate with this sense of mission and purpose. One such

organization happens to be the business that the task force’s Co-Chair Angie Mulehisen leads.

The work that UBT has done to support the Lincoln community during the time of this pandemic

and beyond is nothing short of remarkable. UBT is consistently generous in their philanthropic

giving; its recent implementation of a Financial Literacy program is innovative and empowering;

its tireless work to approve PPP loans for our community members has been critical to the

livelihoods of many; and they are not alone in their good work. It is not hard to find a myriad of

local organizations that are doing their part to support our community.

Such community philanthropy is not the norm everywhere. We are fortunate to live in a

community where corporate citizenship is held in such high regard. We must celebrate our

community-oriented businesses. We must encourage them to be even more intentional about

their support, mission, and purpose. Acting intentionally with purpose can help us address the

economic challenges we seek to solve.

If we want to build back better, intentionality is essential. So too is a deliberate pursuit of profits

AND purpose. A celebration of our Nebraska-ness. The success of the Recovery Task Force and

our collective economic vitality depends on it.


Graham Pansing Brooks

Co-Founder & President | SEAchange, LTD

Condensed version published in the Lincoln Journal Star (6/5/2020)

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