Propelling Nebraska's Economy Forward

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Propelling Nebraska's Economy Forward

by Kaitlynn Johnson

Women's Leadership Network
Women's Leadership Network, Nebraska Alumni Association
A view of the Women's Leadership Network conference organized by the Nebraska Alumni Association in March 2020

Nebraska women propel the state’s economic development and leadership forward

From the Missouri River to the Colorado border, the state of Nebraska has become a thriving place for entrepreneurs and women leaders. In terms of work ethic and workforce participation, Nebraska ranks among the highest states in the country. According to the Nebraska Workforce Viability, Nebraska ranks sixth for female participation and tenth for minority participation in the workforce. Three women-- Carley Bruning, Melissa Garcia, and Tara Lea-- are leading Nebraska's growth and community enrichment across the state while at the university level, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is mentoring young women to be leaders in the community and their chosen professional fields.

Carley Bruning - Hebron, Nebraska

From coaching college sports teams to now coaching entrepreneurs, Carley Bruning has been able to guide many individuals of Thayer county to success in their business endeavors.

"I get to meet people and I get to be a part of start-ups, transitions, and I just get to make connections with the business community," Bruning said. "It's still a coaching gig, I just don't have to do it on Friday and Saturday nights."

As the Executive Director of Thayer County Economic Development Alliance, Bruning helps business owners with a variety of their needs. From marketing plans to retirement to expansions, Bruning works and aids each person who walks in her door to provide them the best information she can.

"It was just happenstance that I stumbled into a position and loved it," Bruning said. "I get the opportunity every day to do what I love, and that is meet people, meet businesses, and help them any way I can."

With an increase of people working from home, Bruning said that quality of life is increasing as employees' priorities, now that people don't have to live in a big city for a big job. As her job, she's working to show that their desired location to live is now in Thayer county.

"Now we need to tell the story of 'Come here we have high-speed internet. Come here we're just an hour drive from where your office could be when you need to make that weekly meeting'" Bruning said.

As she plays her part in helping Thayer county grow and develop, ultimately Bruning is making Thayer county the home she wants for both her and her daughters.

"I'm going to make this the best place for my children," Bruning said. "I'm not from here, but I'm going to be from here forever, and this is where I'm going to make my mark."

Melissa Garcia- Broken Bow, Nebraska

For Melissa Garcia, of Broken Bow, having the ability to create great change is important.

After working in fields such as real estate and advertising she moved back home to Broken Bow and became the economic developer for Custer county.

"My kids are the sixth generation in the family to come from Broken Bow," Garcia said. "Coming back allowed them to see where their family had been over the years and to make a difference."

Through Leadership Nebraska, a peer introduced her to Black Hills Energy.

Currently, Garcia works as the Senior Community Affairs Manager for Black Hills Energy.

In her current position, she works in public relations and crisis communications, making sure the company is portrayed in an accurate light. Additionally, she makes sure towns have the infrastructure available to implement natural gas into their facilities.

"As I've found with working with Black Hills Energy is that they are an organization that believes in doing the right things and doing them for the right reason and helping whenever we can," she said.

In her work, Garcia places a lot of emphasis on amplifying the voices of others and showing appreciation to people whose jobs others may not have been aware of.

One of these jobs would be the individuals who ventured out during the winter storms of the 2020-21 winter storms, to ensure that natural gas was properly functioning in people's homes. This ensured Nebraska citizens had access to warm water, heat, and a stovetop to make their hot chocolate.

"We took the time to honor and appreciate them," Garcia said."To get to elevate them and see that on their faces for me I think is why I do what I do everyday."

One program that Black Hills Energy has is Black Hills Cares. In this program, Black Hills employees and customers can make donations, which the company's foundation will match, and they then partner with the Salvation Army to help individuals across the state with their natural gas utility bills.

Over the past five years in her position, Garcia worked to strengthen and grow the Black Hills Cares in order to increase its impact.

Through this program, Garcia said that this year already over have been helped 1,000 people with a total of $150,000, helping ensure individuals are able to have natural gas access to their homes.

"Better is only better if it's better for everyone. So how do we make sure that every cog is being supported in our community by the work that we do"

Tara Lea- Fremont, Nebraska

A 2001 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Tara Lea initially planned to pursue sideline sports reporting as a career. With her broadcasting degree, she spent three years working for 10/11 News in Lincoln. From there she moved to Chicago and worked for a sports marketing company before moving back to Nebraska to work for UNL's PGA golf management program.

Today, Lea works as the Executive Director of Fremont Area's Chamber of Commerce, a role she wasn't looking for but was advised to apply for by

"I had to research what Chamber of Commerce was because I wasn't one hundred percent sure," Lea laughed.

In her position, she meets with business owners and helps them make connections within the community and other business owners. Additionally, in her role she provides continued education to business owners, ranging from topics on human relations to social media.

'It's the perfect job for me," Lea said. "Fremont is an amazing community."

As the business community in Fremont develops, Lea notes that many of the new businesses are run by women.

"Those women have such amazing drive that you want to hang out with them all the time," she said.

Nebraska Women's Leadership Network

While Carley Bruning, Melissa Garcia, and Tara Lea, and others like them are doing a steller in taking the state's economy forward, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is preparing more women who can bolster the developmental work. The university, through the Nebraska Women's Leadership Network, offers them a professional landscape.

Talking about the program Maria Muhlbach, CVA, Director, Alumni Outreach, Nebraska Alumni Association, says, "We strive to nurture community by providing professional development opportunities, and connections to a wide variety of women leaders across the country who want to give back to students. The Network helps women grow and thrive, not only professionally, but personally too."

As part of this program, women are able to advance their professional development, network, and participate in a mentorship program. With both the students' and alumni's involvement, alumni can stay connected to the University.

"Students can gain access to financial support through internships, jobs, conferences, obtaining a professional license or certification, or other professional opportunities," remarks Maria.

Throughout the year are a variety of events for participants to engage in. A biannual conference takes place each March and October, and other events occur throughout the year to learn about topics, such as finances and health.

Women are able to join and participate in this program through the Nebraska Alumni Association.

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