Thomas C. Sorensen Seminar: Rural and Urban Economic Development (February)


In the past few decades, economic development for both urban and rural communities has emerged as a critical domestic policy area. The vitality of local and regional economies has become a priority issue for policymakers, especially in turbulent economic times. Yet in spite of its importance, economic development policy is poorly understood, and its merits often vigorously debated.

This seminar covered the basic concepts and theories regarding rural and urban economic development policy. Participants explored the complex linkages among the public, private, and non-profit sectors in formulating and implementing these policies. The discussion also covered the current efforts by Nebraska to enable growth in industries for both rural and urban areas.

Seminar leaders:
Robert Blair is an assistant professor of Public Administration at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He received an M.P.A. from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Nebraska­-Lincoln. Dr. Blair has conducted applied community development research and delivered strategic planning services to more than 40 Nebraska communities while at UNO’s Center for Public Affairs Research. His professional experience includes work as a community developer, industrial consultant, assistant city manager, personnel director, and public works administrator and planner. Dr. Blair has published in Public Administration Quarterly and Public Administration Review. He also served five years as the editor of the Journal of the Community Development Society.

Kermit A. Brashear is the Nebraska state senator for District #4, which encompasses parts of west Omaha. He was first elected to the Nebraska Senate in 1994 and was reelected in 1998. He serves as judiciary committee chair and is a member of the Education Committee. He is a past state chairman of the Nebraska Republican Party and a past member of the Republican National Committee. Senator Brashear’s specialization is Nebraska's economic development. In addition to his public service, Senator Brashear is the managing partner of Brashear & Ginn, an Omaha law firm. He has a B.A. from the University of Nebraska­-Lincoln and a J.D. from the University of Nebraska School of Law.

Jim Otto is the state director of the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development for Nebraska. He is the USDA representative on the Partnership for Rural Nebraska, the Nebraska Rural Development Commission, the Nebraska Food and Agricultural Council, and the State Emergency Board. Before moving to the USDA, Director Otto served for nine years as coordinator of economic development for the City of Lincoln. There he was responsible for the design, implementation, and administration of the City of Lincoln’s Community Development Block Grant funded economic development programs. Prior to working for the City of Lincoln, Director Otto was based in North Platte, where he served the communities in the western half of Nebraska for the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.

Al Wenstrand is the director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. He was appointed in 1999 by Governor Mike Johanns. Prior to this, he was the executive director of the Sarpy County Economic Development Corporation. Mr. Wenstrand’s office was located in the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, where he and his staff worked on economic development projects. Before his work in economic development, he was a teacher, including 11 years of teaching marketing at Bellevue West High School. In 1989, Mr. Wenstrand was named the National Marketing Educator of the Year by the Marketing Education Association. He has a B.S. in Business Administration and an M.A. in Education from the University of Nebraska­-Lincoln.