Setting Sites: Oh My, Omaha
The home of two famous Warrens -- Buffett and Schmidt -- shines as a haven for growing businesses. The Missouri River metropolis (population: 720,000) has an established reference point in corporate circles as headquarters of billionaire Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway. Recently, it entered the pop-culture zeitgeist as the launch pad for the odyssey of Jack Nicholson's Warren Schmidt in the film About Schmidt. Much like Schmidt, both natives and newcomers to town are realizing why there's really little reason to stray.
The Welcome Mat
Great tax breaks, a well-trained labor force, and affordable living are contributing to a mini-boom in Omaha's commercial development. Recent corporate émigrés include AFLAC, which recently brought 100 jobs to the city, the Gallup Organization, and PayPal.
Tammy Briggs, second vice president of AFLAC's customer call center, cites "an extensive telecommunications infrastructure and talent pool of experienced customer-service representatives" as a major plus to her company's decision to make the move to Omaha.
But the information industry is hardly the only game in town: Omaha's rolling landscape and its many farm byproducts make it an attractive home for ethanol plants, says James Schriner, a New York City-based site-selection specialist with Deloitte and Touche.
$170k About what you'll pay for a new four-bedroom home
To encourage such commercial growth, the local government has fostered development of a riverfront convention center and arena, a Hilton Hotel, a $40 million furniture-mart warehouse and a $35 million addition to an extremely popular zoo (including that indoor rain forest), to be completed by 2005.
Only minutes out of town, Eppley Airfield links travelers to 10 cities nonstop, while Amtrak's California Zephyr stops in Omaha. Main freightline stops for Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe are a potential manufacturing boost.
Life in Omaha is easier on the wallet than in many other U.S. cities. The cost of living is 11 points below the national average; health-care expenses fall a comfortable 8 points below the national average. Houses in new-home developments range from $125,000 to $170,000, while the downtown Old Market area offers loft-style apartment rentals (approximately $750 to $1,200 a month at the rate of $1 a square foot) amid a string of shops, restaurants, and bars.
A lack of significant traffic, many recreational resources, and a relatively moderate climate contribute to Omaha's quality of life. Omaha temperatures range from 25 degrees in the winter to 75 degrees in the summer. Annual rain and snowfall averages typically amount to 29.9 inches and 27 inches, respectively.
In addition to many churches, Omaha has at least four synagogues, several Christian Science Reading Rooms, and one Hindu and one Buddhist temple.
Claas's Freye says he has no regrets about the move. "It's a wonderful place to raise a family ... Omaha is here for the long term."
IN THE PAST FIVE YEARS, Omaha has been aggressively courting new business. Most notable of its initiatives is The Employment and Investment Growth Act. Participating companies must create at least 30 new jobs and invest $3 million in qualified property. Within a seven-year window, businesses receive: a sales- and use-tax refund on depreciable property taxes, a 5% tax credit on salary paid to each new or additional employee for seven years, and a 10% tax credit of a depreciable property investment made by a new or newly arrived business. An eight-year extension for unused funds stretches the benefit period to 15 years.
OTHER TAX FACTS: Nebraska levies personal income tax at four brackets. It charges corporate income tax on a sliding scale, dependent upon a company's in-state sales. Though there is no state-levied property tax, ad valorem taxes are sometimes applied locally.
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