March 3, 2015

Kearney hosts Agri-Eco Tourism conference, starting this afternoon

NE Tourism logoThe Nebraska Tourism Commission is opening its annual three-day Agri/Eco Tourism Workshop today in Kearney.

The event is designed for people who want to learn more about the tourism industries surrounding agriculture and the environment. Commission spokeswoman Karen Kollars says a host of activities are planned through Wednesday.

“We’ll start out with a three-hour workshop with business consultant Joe Calhoon who will be helping people grow their business in a simpler fashion,” Kollars says. “We will also be providing sessions on safety, making sure your farm is safe to have visitors and how to plan in case there’s an emergency.”

An event at the conference on Tuesday evening is designed to showcase a range of Nebraska-made products.

“Food products as well as soaps or lotions, different things that people could sell in their gift shops,” Kollars says. “It’s a great opportunity to know what else is out there for businesses to cross-market. Like if a winery wants to serve cheese, they’ll know what Nebraska cheese places are there.”

She says the gathering is a great place to find out how to develop a new attraction, increase income potential and create limitless opportunities.

The conference is underway at the Holiday Inn in Kearney.

By Brent Wiethorn, KKPR, Kearney


At least 3 Nebraska Radio Shacks to close under Chapter 11

Radio Shack LogoAs more details are released about Radio Shack’s plans to emerge from bankruptcy, at least three stores in Nebraska will be closed, though most of the rest will remain open in some form.

John Linenberger owns J & L Electronics in Beatrice — a Radio Shack store. Linenberger says being a dealer-franchise means he’ll likely be able to stay in operation.

“We went through that bad recession and times were tough but business has been picking up, traffic in the store has picked up,” Linenberger says. “It’s unfortunate this should happen now, just as we were starting to get some wind in our sails.”

The Beatrice store is among about 1,000 dealer-franchise stores. Nationwide, there are about 4,000 corporate-owned stores carrying the Radio Shack brand.

“About half of the corporate stores will be taken over by Sprint through their bankruptcy agreement with General Standard,” he says.

There’s still demand for all types of electronics and components, but Linenberger says there’s less demand for electronic repair services.

Radio Shack is closing at least three stores in Nebraska, one each in Omaha, Bellevue and Scottsbluff. At last report, those that will remain open include stores in: Beatrice, Nebraska City, Crete, Columbus, York, Norfolk, Omaha, Council Bluffs, Papillion and Lincoln.

According to a news release, Radio Shack has signed an asset purchase agreement with General Wireless to acquire between 1,500 and 2,400 of Radio Shack’s corporate-owned stores. General Wireless has agreed with Sprint to establish a “store-within-a-store” retail presence in up to 1,750 of those corporate stores.

By Doug Kennedy, KWBE, Beatrice


Ward Labs in Kearney: 4.4-million soil samples and still going

Soybean field in JulyAn agricultural soil testing firm in Kearney is marking the completion of a major expansion project.

Ward Laboratories has cut the ribbon on a 16,000 square foot addition. Company founder and president Ray Ward says the expanded facility will help the company provide more efficient soil testing results for ag producers.

Ward says, “That’s our goal and as times are changing, we’re trying to keep up with those changes and provide the services that the farmers and ranchers would like to have.”

The company opened its first lab in Kearney more than 30 years ago and has continued to grow, now employing 32 people full-time and 20 part-time. With advances in technology, Ward says the expansion will greatly improve the facility’s productivity.

“We’re going to be able to process samples more efficiently, we can handle more of them and get faster turnaround time in the fall when we’ve been so busy,” Wards says. “With this expansion, we’ll be able to handle more samples then. That’s our goal, to be able to provide the service more quickly and not get so far behind in that fall timeframe.”

Ward Laboratories analyzes soil, water, feed, plant, manure, fertilizer, wastewater and biological testing for soil health. Last year, the lab analyzed 323,000 soil samples. Since the business started, it’s handled more than 4.4-million samples from every state and seven foreign countries.

By Brent Wiethorn, KKPR, Kearney


Nebraska businesses remain optimistic about hiring

JobsA survey of Nebraska businesses described many as “solidly optimistic” about employment, with slightly less than a quarter of those surveyed stating they plan to add jobs this year.

Only six percent expect to cut jobs.

The survey was taken by the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Its director, Eric Thompson, says the survey found expectations strongest in Omaha and Lincoln as well as in western Nebraska.

“I think that that’s related to the results from our respondents in the agriculture sector and with prices for crops still fairly low, there’s concern about how strong sales will be in that part of the economy,” Thompson tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN.

Thompson says though businesses seem sure of their labor force, they are less sure about sales. He describes business executives as modestly optimistic about sales growth. Just under 30% of the business executives surveyed expect sales to grow in the next six months, with about 25% expecting sales to decline.

Thompson sees an optimistic trend in recent surveys.

“For the 11th month out of the last 12, businesses were optimistic in Nebraska about growth in both sales and employment,” Thompson says. “In fact, businesses were quite optimistic in terms of adding jobs over the next six months.”

The bureau sends surveys to 500 Nebraska businesses chosen at random each month. In January, 147 surveys were returned, a response rate just shy of 30%.

Closed factory in Ravenna finds new life, reopening in July

DarlingA Texas-based pet food company is buying a vacant building in south-central Nebraska to launch a new operation this summer.

Darling Ingredients is opening shop in the Buffalo County town of Ravenna, just north of Kearney.

Dana Dennison, executive director of the Ravenna Economic Development Corporation, says the deal was finalized last month and renovations are already underway at the plant.

“Their goal here in Ravenna is to have a wet food product that they freeze dry and ship off to manufacturing plants to make their own cat or dog food,” Dennison says. “They’re looking right now to have 20 to 25 jobs.” There would be two work shifts initially with the possiblity of adding a third shift next year.

The building was previously occupied by Leprino Foods, which made string cheese and closed in 2013, eliminating 170 jobs.

Dennison says the announcement is outstanding news.

“We’re just thrilled here in Ravenna to have the opportunity to have such a great company like Darling come in, who’s been in business since 1882,” Dennison says, “and to have more opportunities for our residents to find employment and help with tax dollars and more revenue within our community.”

Darling hopes to hold a job fair for prospective new employees in May, with operations starting up in July.

By Brent Wiethorn, KKPR, Kearney