The Omaha Nebraska has been a major commercial hub in the Midwestern United States since its founding in 1854. Dubbed the "Motor Mouth City" by The New York Times, Omaha is widely regarded as the telecommunications capital of the United States. The city's economy includes agriculture, food processing, insurance, transportation, healthcare and education. Warren Buffet of Berkshire Hathaway has lived in Omaha all of his life, as have the ConAgra Foods, Union Pacific Railroad and Mutual of Omaha Companies, all Fortune 500 corporations.
According to the Nebraska Department of Labor, in March 2008 the unemployment rate in Omaha was 3.9 percent. Between 2000 and 2005 Omaha's job growth was 0.70 percent. In 2006 the sales tax rate was seven percent, with income tax at 6.68 percent. That same year the median family income was $56,869, with a 1.80 percent housing price gain.
In September 2007 the city ranked eighth among the 50 largest cities in the United States in both per-capita billionaires and Fortune 500 companies. According to USA Today, no other city in the country could claim a ranking as high as Omaha on both lists. The paper identified the richest residents of Omaha as Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, worth $1.5 billion; Walter Scott of Peter Kiewit Sons, worth $1.2 billion; and Warren Buffett, then valued by Forbes magazine at $44 billion. The city ranks fourteenth among the states for philanthropic giving, according to the Catalogue of Philanthropy.
Omaha has a long history of labor unrest and conflict between management and workers. As a long-time open shop the city gained the reputation for actively breaking unions; however, with the loss of large-scale railroad operations and meat production, the labor-driven protests, rioting and civil unrest of the past appears to be gone.
Omaha earned its nickname, the "Gateway to the West", because of its central location as a transportation hub for the United States in the middle and late 1800s. Emmigrants, gold seekers, Mormons, freighters, Native Americans, speculators and land sharks all contributed. The Omaha Claim Club was an early land claim seller, court, jury and enforcement group. Jobbers Canyon grew as a warehousing center as carriage factories, wholesale houses, and barbed wire factories, along with Downtown Omaha department stores such as Brandeis and hotels such as Hotel Fontenelle. The city's breweries, brickyards, iron works, flour mills, and the Union Pacific headquarters caused the city to swell rapidly between the 1880s and the 1920s.
Major bus lines and airlines have traveled through the city for almost 100 years. Several major highways and bridges come into the city as well.
Early businesspeople who were important to the growth and development of the city include a variety of bankers, investors, promoters, lawyers, and entrepreneurs. Omaha is said to have been founded by William D. Brown, the entrepreneur behind the Lone Tree Ferry which brought settlers across from Council Bluffs, Iowa. Alfred D. Jones was a surveyor and lawyer who first platted the city. Later the brothers Edward and John A. Creighton traveled west from their native Ohio planting telegraph wires along the way. Their contributions to the city's growth were innumerable, with varied backgrounds in banking, investing and philanthropy. Similarly, the Kountze family's impact on the city was immense. Augustus and his brother Herman founded the bank that became the First National of Nebraska, which today is the largest independent bank in the U.S., and is still headquartered in Omaha. Gilbert Hitchcock and Edward Rosewater were among the many influential newspaper editors in the city, founding empires that promoted, molded and drove economic development. Frederick Krug, Frederick Metz and Gottlieb Storz were all early beer brewers, with counterparts in the meatpacking industry included Edward Cudahy, Sr. among others.
Currently the service sector accounts for nearly 40 percent of total employment in Omaha. Other key sectors are trade, transportation and utilities, as well as the finance, insurance and real estate sectors. Telecommunications and architecture/construction are also major influences on the local economy. The Greater Omaha Economic Development Partnership identifies the defense industry, manufacturing, and information technology as important areas, as well.
The presence of the Strategic Air Command during the Cold War and the U.S. Strategic Command has led to a strong defense industry. Transportation in Omaha has been vital to the city's growth, with more than 144 million pounds of cargo passing through Eppley Airfield in 2004. The Union Pacific and several other major railroads provide freight service that is coordinated with many of the trucking companies serving the metropolitan area.
The telecommunications industry has gravitated to Omaha over the last 30 years. After the U.S. government relocated the Strategic Air Command here after World War II the city became home to one of the world's most advanced and secure phone systems. Other factors in the city's success include Omaha's location in the Central Time Zone, making it more convenient to call either coast during the work day, as well as local speech patterns, described as "pure American," making it easily understood everywhere. Nebraska state regulators granted local phone companies wide latitude to deploy new services rapidly, and Omaha's Metropolitan Community College created telecommunications-related courses and training programs. Since the early 1980s a number of large hotel and travel reservation operations, including those for Marriott, Hyatt, Radisson and Westin hotels, as well as the traffic information center for Greyhound Bus Lines have all been located in the city. After the AT&T breakup, US West, the phone company whose 14-state territory includes Nebraska, adopted the slogan "Dial 800 and get Omaha" to promote its services.
Omaha was one of the first U.S. cities to develop a fiber optic network. Over the past 10 years its telecommunications foundation has expanded into a thriving information technology sector. Today the city has several educational facilities focused on information technology and telecommunications, including the University of Nebraska's Peter Kiewit Institute, Creighton University's Joe Ricketts Center in Electronic Commerce and Database Marketing, the Creighton Institute of Information Technology Management and programs at Bellevue University.
The largest employer in the Omaha metropolitan area is the Offutt Air Force Base, which employs more than 10,000 military and civilian workers. Next is Alegent Health, with approximately 7,500 employees, followed by Omaha Public Schools and First Data Corporation, each with approximately 7,000 employees. Other major employers include Methodist Health System, Mutual of Omaha, ConAgra Foods, Nebraska Health System, Odyssey Staffing, Inc., Staff Mid-America and the West Corporation.
According to USA Today, Omaha ranks eighth among the nation's 50 largest cities in both per-capita billionaires and Fortune 500 companies. Warren Buffett, nicknamed the "Oracle of Omaha", was ranked the richest person in the world in 2007richest people in the world. Other influential businesspeople in the area include Cathy Hughes, owner of Radio One.
Recently the city has experienced a large amount of economic growth. In the downtown area the Omaha World-Herald's Freedom Center, the First National Center, the Omaha Convention Center and Arena and the Gallup University campus have each been identified as central to the city's revitalization efforts. WallStreet Tower Omaha is a downtown addition that will be the third tallest building in the city when its finished. The Missouri River waterfront development project features a pedestrian bridge between Omaha and Council Bluffs, as well as two condominium towers and an area for retail and restaurants. In the north downtown area redevelopment has been ongoing, with interest piquing after the recent announcement of a new downtown baseball stadium for the College World Series in the area.
In West Omaha, parts of which were covered in cornfields as recently as 2002, several commercial districts and high wealth neighborhoods have developed. A mixed-use development in southwest Omaha called Coventry will be a complex of mansions, commercial development, and retail/restaurants. Projects are also under way for improving North Omaha. In the Midtown area, Mutual of Omaha is redeveloping an area bordering 31st to 33rd streets and Dodge to Harney streets that is called "Midtown Crossing at Turner Park. Featuring condominiums, apartments and an Element Hotel, the area will also host a movie theater, grocery store, restaurants and a health club. After renovating and expanding the public Turner Park, the development seeks to be a catalyst for further redevelopment in the area. Another mixed-use project in Midtown is situated on the site of the former Ak-Sar-Ben Collesium. Aksarben Village will be a complex of restaurants, shops, lounges and clubs along with a theater and residential areas.