Omaha becoming the silicon prairie of the Midwest

omaha 2by Dan Rafter

The silicon prairie? For the brokers who work here, Omaha deserves that nickname.

And why not? Tech companies are increasingly calling the city and its surrounding communities home.

Jeffrey Wyatt, senior advisor at the Omaha office of Colliers International, says that the word has spread that Omaha is not only a tech-friendly community but that it is an exciting place to live and a safe place to raise a family.

“Things are more exciting in Omaha than they ever have been,” Wyatt said.

To help prove his point, Wyatt points to the growing number of tech-based companies that are setting up shop in Omaha. The Scott Technology Center has played an important role in this. The center, developed by the Suzanne and Walter Scott Foundation as an incubator for tech start-ups, now features 220,000 square feet of facilities.

There’s also the Mastercraft building, a former furniture factory that today is a creative center in North Downtown Omaha designed to support young companies, including those working in information technology and other high-tech fields.

Omaha is also attracting younger business people. Wyatt points to Creighton University’s Heider College of Business. About 80 percent of the students that attend this Omaha-based business college come from outside the city. And 60 percent of those graduates land their first jobs in Omaha, meaning that they aren’t fleeing the city after graduating.

“A lot of young professionals are saddled with a horrendous amount of debt. Why shouldn’t they start their careers in an area that is more affordable?” Wyatt said. “Omaha is a better place to live for these graduates. There is a better quality of life here. And there are plenty of fun things for people to do.”

It makes sense, too, for a growing number of tech start-ups to locate in the city, Wyatt said.

“Where would you rather start a tech company? In Silicon Valley where the office rents are incredibly high and no one can afford to buy a home?” he asked. “Or would you rather start one in Omaha, where office rents and housing are both affordable? They’re calling us the Silicon Prairie because so many people are starting to realize what a great place this is to start a new technology company.”

Wyatt doesn’t expect this trend to slow any time soon. Downtown Omaha continues to become a more vibrant place, and that is attracting a greater number of young people to the area’s new multi-family developments, he said.

“The overall culture of Omaha has changed in the last 10 to 15 years,” he said. “There has been a big shift to create a culture that is a little bit more welcoming to young professionals and the tech community.”

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