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Reprinted from The Columbus Telegram – Date: July 16, 2020

NPPD report shows manufacturing main driver of Platte County economy

The manufacturing sector continues to be the major driver when it comes to Platte County’s economy, according to a new report recently released by the Nebraska Public Power District.

According to the study, which used 2018 data, the total value of all Columbus and Platte County economic output associated with the area’s manufacturing base is $3.6 billion. Manufacturing alone contributes $2.9 billion of that amount.

The industry also provides over 10,000 jobs in a county of over 30,000 people. The study was requested by the Loup Power District and the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce.

“When you think of the employment base, what that trickles down to (is) in terms of buying houses, having kids in schools, spouses that also work,” said Jeanne Schieffer, president of the Columbus Chamber. “Just the ripple effect of our manufacturing base is so critical to the integrity of our community.”

Schieffer said it is important for future generations to know the value of a good job with manufacturing. BD recently announced it would be investing even more in Columbus, which Schieffer said was exciting. Schieffer noted that part of why officials commissioned the study was because of a bill in the legislature about incentives for companies.

But, they have other goals with the data. For example, looking to where the community can be in the future.

“What don’t we have that we could add to our industrial base? What don’t we have that we could add to our commercial base? What don’t we already have that we could add to our retail?” Schieffer said. “From an economic development standpoint, I think it will be useful data to share with companies that may want to look at us.”

They can also show there are good-paying jobs, she said.

The report says manufacturing in Columbus “paid the fourth-highest average annual compensation per employee ($66,878).”

The contributions to the economy are broken down into direct, induced and supply chain impacts, said Ken Lemke, an NPPD economist who conducted the research.

The direct impacts are from the manufacturing itself; for example, the goods manufactured. The induced impacts are from the ripple effect of paying people, such as an employee who spends part of his/her paycheck eating at a local business.

The supply chain impacts are from supplying the manufacturer with what they need, such as an electric company that sells electricity to a manufacturer. Some sectors of manufacturing are very stable, said Lemke.

“BD is a huge employer with their two plants, I think they have about 2,000 people,” he said. “That’s a very stable industry because of the products they are producing. They produce medical devices. So that sector is extremely stable. It’s also competitive but it’s stable.”

Overall, he would characterize the Columbus manufacturing industry as being pretty stable.

“If you look at Behlen, a lot of their products (are) related to agriculture, and so there is more dependency upon what’s going on in the world and national ag markets,” Lemke said. “There is probably a little bit more fluctuation there.”

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Behlen Mfg. Co. in Columbus

Lemke said the biggest advantage Columbus has for manufacturing is its labor force. Columbus also has low electric rates.

“One of the things that’s crucial in terms of where companies decide to locate or expand and grow is the presence of labor. Because Columbus has a long history of manufacturing it has a very large labor force for a community of its size of skilled workers,” he said. “The community is very open to manufacturing, which is important. Columbus also has a quality of life that’s a good place to live.”

He said there are always concerns about if there is enough labor to go around but noted manufacturing has been a good economic base for Columbus.

“I think they’ve done quite well in attracting a combination of industries that pay good wages for working families and also have a number of higher-paying jobs for technical and senior management,” Lemke said.

Carolyn Komatsoulis is a reporter with the Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at carolyn.komatsoulis@lee.net