Two weeks after starting his new position, Walker Zulkoski is familiarizing himself with the area as the new director of the NGage economic development group.
Zulkoski was announced as the director of NGage at a meeting in April and started his new role May 9.
“I’m really excited to be down here,” he said. “Just in my first week the number of people I’ve met who have so much interest in helping me and this community and county grow is encouraging.”
A native of Ord in central Nebraska, Zulkoski has previous experience with the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, where he spent four years as a business recruiter at the state level.
Zulkoski was involved in projects that created nearly 600 new jobs and resulted in more than $400 million in investments.
Gauging the success of an economic development group poses a challenge, largely because some projects are years in the making.
With many different factors to consider, Zulkoski said a primary trait of successful economic development groups is a focus on creating primary jobs.
“One thing I learned at the state level is you get pulled in so many different directions,” he said. “What I always go back to is the core of what we do for economic development is to create primary jobs and investment. Those are the two simplest things if you were going to measure to look at.”
A focal point for Gage County economic development in recent years has been a desire to sell the building formerly occupied by Husqvarna, the turf care company that left Beatrice in 2010.
Zulkoski said a challenge with selling the 274,000-square-foot facility is finding a single buyer for such a large building.
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“They don’t want to section it out, so finding someone willing to take on the whole burden is kind of the main issue,” he said. “It’s a wonderful space and a really nice building. It has good highway access, it’s got dock doors, it’s a really good building, but it’s pretty expensive for someone who might need it for warehousing.”
The available properties portion of NGage’s website lists the building at $6.4 million.
NGage’s previous director, Glennis McClure, will remain with NGage as small business director, a new position focusing on the needs of small businesses and startups.
An executive assistant position was cut as part of the transition.
To accommodate the new arrangement, Zulkoski said a wall will be added to the lower level of the Carnegie building in downtown Beatrice to create two offices for NGage.
Zulkoski said he and McClure have different strengths, which will benefit economic development efforts.
“We just have two different skill sets and really two different interests, but we both have a passion for economic development,” he said. “She’s really good at the small business side and the entrepreneurship side and helping businesses create a business plan. ... We have the same goals in mind, but two different ways of getting there. I think us together is a pretty cool tandem.”
Zulkoski added incentive programs, such as LB840 funds, are an important resource for businesses seeking assistance.
“A lot of companies we work with need the money up front. ... They want to be successful quicker and so that’s when the local dollars can come into play and are so important,” he said. “LB840 funds are just huge and not everybody has those.”