Highlight: Richard Baier, President and CEO of the Nebraska Bankers Association

In 2011, Senator Galen Hadley of Kearney introduced LB 387, the Nebraska Business Innovation Act.  For the first time in Nebraska’s history, entrepreneurs and innovators had an array of financial assistance programs to help startups and innovative companies including the Nebraska Academic Research and Development Grant Program, the Nebraska Innovation Fund Prototype Grant Program, the Nebraska Innovation Seed Investment Fund Program, and the Nebraska Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Tech Transfer (SBIR/STTR) Grant Program.  All programs required matching funds.  LB 387 was passed unanimously by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor.
  Richard Baier currently serves as the President and CEO of the Nebraska Bankers Association. He joined the Invest Nebraska Board of Directors in 2015 and recently served as Board Chair from 2017 – 2018.
1) The Nebraska Business Innovation Act was authored by you and your team during your tenure as the Director for the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.  Have the programs had the intended impact you envisioned back in 2011?
Prior to 2011, the research was very clear that Nebraska was lagging in the areas of innovation, technology and entrepreneurship.  When compared to other states, Nebraska routinely scored 49th out of fifty states.  Governor Heineman understood the many challenges facing our state in these areas and supported proactive efforts to develop reasonable, targeted, public policy strategies designed to stimulate Nebraska’s innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem.  Our team also recognized that these policies could be executed more efficiently and effectively outside of the parameters of state government.  Since these policies were adopted, Nebraska has made visible strides in improving their competitiveness.  While it is difficult to quantify, it is especially gratifying for me to see how the discussions around innovation and entrepreneurship have changed in our state!  Now the challenge is to continue to grow upon these recent successes.
2) Why are you passionate about Nebraska entrepreneurship and small businesses?
Nebraska’s most successful communities possess a solid core of locally based companies as part of their economic makeup.  I firmly believe a successful long-term economic development strategy must embrace business start-ups, small businesses, business retention and business attraction, coupled with strong and attractive communities.  My parents and my in-laws both owned their own businesses.  Their community involvement and investment impressed upon me the importance of hard work and the importance of small business to any thriving community.
3) What strengths does Nebraska have over other states in terms of its entrepreneurship ecosystem?
First, we often overlook the fact that farming and ranching are some of the biggest risk-taking entrepreneurial ventures in our country; therefore, risk-taking and a strong work ethic seem to be built into our DNA.  Second, our citizens and community leaders understand the need to work cooperatively to achieve success.  Finally, being a small state and having a Unicameral Legislature, we are able to be nimble, yet aggressively tackle challenges in a focused manner.
4) In your current role as President & CEO of the Nebraska Bankers Association, what synergies do you see between the NBA and Invest Nebraska?
Every day, I have the pleasure to represent 179 Nebraska banks whose success and profitability ties directly to the success and growth of their local communities.  Therefore, the Nebraska Bankers Association plays an important role in addressing economic and community weaknesses and subsequently marshalling local and state resources to support growth.
5) What excites you the most about the future of Nebraska entrepreneurship?
Nebraska has dramatically improved the environment for entrepreneurs over the past decade.  We have a solid statewide leadership base that appreciates and values the role and importance of entrepreneurs and small business in the state’s economy.  Our state must build upon some of our recent growth and success and focus our attention on crafting new attitudes, public policies and capital sources to propel Nebraska to an even greater future.