Some of the events and businesses that had an economic effect on Grand Island last year include: (clockwise from the top) the Grand Island Regional Medical Center, the new CHI Health Regional Cancer Center at St. Francis, the State Fair, the closure of the Grand Island Veterans Home, the sandhill crane migration, and Fonner Park. (Independent/Barrett Stinson)

While some prognosticators sense economic uncertainties going into 2020, Grand Island has set in motion a number of big projects that will create jobs and economic opportunities for the community and surrounding area.

One area that will strengthened Grand Island’s economy is its continued growth as a regional medical center, according to Cindy Johnson, president of the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce.

“We anticipate growth in the medical services sectors with the Grand Island Regional Hospital coming online in summer 2020,” Johnson said.

The Regional Hospital, with nearly 175,000 square feet, will offer maternity, surgery, intensive care, emergency and other medical services; it has 64 beds.

“The growth in this quadrant of the city is critical as Grand Island leaders are committed to expanding the community to the Interstate and thereby capture more of the 20,000 drivers that meet Exit 312 daily,” Johnson said.

Another major development in the community’s expanding medical community is the new CHI Health St. Francis Cancer Treatment Center, which opens Monday.

Johnson said the new facility and technology is an upgrade from the previous facilities and will match the top quality of care provided by the physicians and staff at the center.

“These two facilities not only serve Central Nebraskans health care needs, they are economic drivers for the local area,” Johnson said. “Jobs in hospitals, clinics and specialty fields make up a significant percentage of the workforce in our area. Additionally, patients seen by a Grand Island physician are also likely to visit retail stores, gas stations and restaurants during their time in our community.”

After the Grand Island Veterans Home closed last year, the city, state and developers have been working on plans for the property.

Johnson said the State of Nebraska and the City of Grand Island, along with developer White Lotus and its team (Chief Industries, DLR Group and O’Connor Enterprises), are in the process of finalizing the timeline for transfer of the former veterans home property.

She said this will be a phased project for:

-- Affordable senior housing (100 units) with a preference to veterans and spouses of veterans.

-- Affordable internship/student housing.

-- Affordable assisted living.

Johnson said overarching all phases of development is amenitizing the campus — bringing a health and wellness component and other services residents will need on a campus of this size — to the site.

“This intergenerational redevelopment will honor the veteran home campus’s rich history while developing the next chapter of this campus’s life,” Johnson said. She said that in 2020, the goal is to have the ownership of the property transferred to White Lotus so it can complete its due diligence of the property (i.e. scanning buildings, environmental checks and other back-of-house activities).

But while Grand Island will see growth as a regional medical center, the community’s retail sector could see continued challenges in 2020, Johnson said.

She said increased online sales compounded by the loss of two anchors at the Conestoga Mall will continue to be felt this year.

“Stores must capitalize on expanding and promoting the ‘experience’ of shopping more than ever,” Johnson said. “An abundance of former retail space is available for redevelopment and Grand Island, like communities across the nation, are looking at various options for reuse of these buildings.”

During the last 20 years, Grand Island has made important strides in growing its reputation as a visitors’ destinations, with such attractions as Fonner Park, the Nebraska State Fair, Husker Harvest Days, the annual sandhill crane migration, sports tournaments and much more.

Johnson said bringing visitors (and their wallets) to Grand Island is a continued economic development strategy.

“A new hotel at the South Locust Street/Highway 34 gateway to the city will provide another opportunity for visitors to the numerous events hosted by Grand Island,” she said.

Upticks in lodging and food and beverage taxes are anticipated for 2020, Johnson added.

Last year was a big year for the development of the Railside District as Grand Island’s downtown area saw the additions of Pinnacle Bank and 40 North and expansion of existing services or new specialty stops.

“The redevelopment of the former Wells Fargo building for Amur Financial will be a welcome enhancement to the downtown,” Johnson said. “Opportunity exists for additional small site redevelopment as well as larger scale (Downtown Center).”

A lot of eyes will be focused on the agricultural sector this year.

Johnson said the agricultural economy continues to experience challenges with tariffs, trade, and commodity and livestock prices.

“There is some light as local manufacturers of agricultural equipment are cautiously optimistic regarding production in 2020,” she said. “Companies continue to ‘right size’ their operations and make investments as necessary. The JBS expansion of facilities and reinvestment for efficiencies there are a testament to this company’s commitment to Grand Island.”

In the area of real estate, Johnson said values are holding and steadily increasing as days on market for housing stock have been less than two months due to the limited amount of housing available.

An even bigger challenge to future growth, especially in bringing high skilled jobs that pay well, is having the necessary workforce available for those career opportunities.

Johnson said workforce and talent attraction will continue to be the number one challenge for Grand Island businesses.

“For decades, business success has been driven by ‘location, location, location.’ In the current and upcoming years we know that the availability of a skilled, trained workforce will be the deciding factors for companies wishing to grow in Grand Island or locate in our community,” she said. The initiatives underway (or soon to be underway) through Grow Grand Island (upskilling/retraining and recruitment) as well as the Grand Island Public School’s Academy Program, are efforts to ‘grow our own’ talent and workforce pipelines.”

Johnson said it is inevitable that significant commercial development will occur between the Grand Island Regional Hospital and the Interstate. In addition to the hospital, a medical office building (total of $17 million; 66,000 square feet) will be completed at Prairie Commons in December 2020. She said 85 percent of the building is pre-leased; expanded specialties and additional health care will be available for outstate Nebraska.

Johnson said Tabitha, a non-profit senior housing and care provider, founded and based in Lincoln, is interested in building a senior housing and skilled nursing community in the Prairie Commons development.

In partnership with Senior Housing Partners, the project development consultant, and Chief Construction, the proposed project general contractor, the team has studied several design iterations. Tabitha is focusing on a mixed-care senior living community of approximately 150 to 160 units, including independent living, assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing, creating housing for approximately 200 residents.

Johnson said the former Lewis Greenscape site (34 acres) on south Highway 281 is available for development.

“Development at this site would further connect the Interstate to Grand Island businesses,” Johnson said.

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