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Info@NationalCyberSecurity

Lawmakers hear benefits of Bellevue cybersecurity project, but state funding ask is unclear | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware


LINCOLN — Supporters of a proposed Bellevue campus that could make Nebraska a leader in cybersecurity sought the backing of Nebraska lawmakers on Tuesday. But they left open what the cost to the state might be.

Omaha State Sen. Mike McDonnell, who introduced Legislative Bill 1364, told the Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee that the development team was still working with the Governor’s Office to determine the amount to ask of the state.

Rendering of “REACH” building, which would be the anchor of the proposed Prairie Hill Farm development in Bellevue. (Courtesy of HDR)

As planned, the Prairie Hill Farm collaboration campus would be built on farmland northeast of Highways 75 and 34. Its centerpiece would be a six-story, 200,000-square-foot research and commercial complex focused on developing new national security technology.

Around that tech park would rise housing, hotel rooms, stores and other office and commercial space. The aim is to create a setting that would provide academics and high-tech workers a place to also live, shop and socialize.

State funding request still unknown

Omaha State Sen. Brad von Gillen, questioning the financial ask, said: “It always concerns me when I see a bill that has x’s where the dollar signs are … to be quite frank.”

Omaha State Sen. Mike McDonnell. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska News Service)

McDonnell said the unspecified dollar amount is based on not knowing what “that next step should be.”

“Should it be an additional $10 million, $30 million, $40 million? We just haven’t gotten there yet,” McDonnell said. “But we will shortly.”

The state in 2022 approved an initial $20 million to start the project, which has since grown in scope and expense.

According to a fiscal note attached to the bill, that initial funding was recently returned to the state’s site and building development fund in anticipation of the still-to-be-determined amount that is to be matched with other private and federal funds.

Omaha State Sen. R. Brad von Gillern. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska News Service)

McDonnell said the state funding would be “the last dollar in.”

A spokesman for the development team in early January told the Nebraska Examiner that the team was hoping for up to $130 million more from the state. The team foresees the campus being done in phases, ultimately surpassing $600 million in investment. 

The main facility, called the REACH (Research, Engineering, Architecture Collaboration Hub) is estimated to cost nearly $200 million.

Said McDonnell: “This is exciting for the state, but it’s also necessary for the country that we continue to take the steps forward, invest our dollars in a way that protects our citizens.”

He and other proponents said a couple of other states have similarly focused campuses but said the Prairie Hill Farm would stand out as a public-private partnership.

Confronts brain drain

No one testified in opposition. Among the three proponents who spoke was Harrison Johnson, the City of Bellevue’s director of economic and community development.

Johnson said the flight of young people from the state, brain drain as he called it, and the struggle to attract new residents are among Nebraska’s most pressing issues.

Rare ‘innovation hub’ in Bellevue would boost Nebraska as leader in cybersecurity

Bellevue, he said, is seeking to reverse the troubling trend with such developments as an inland port authority commercial district, an entertainment district with a water park — and the proposed Prairie Hill Farm, which would complement NC3 operations in the nearby U.S. Strategic Command and Offutt Air Force Base.

NC3 refers to nuclear command, control and communications.

Johnson said the City of Bellevue has committed $20 million for infrastructure improvements and already has purchased about 45 acres for the campus. The developers believe the site could grow to as large as 200 acres.

Proponents said they anticipate a return to the state and local economy of about $12 for every $1 of state funds invested.

The campus, through an agreement with Bellevue, is to be owned and managed by a nonprofit. Burlington Capital is the developer; HDR led the design.

The Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee did not take any action on whether to advance the bill to the full Legislature.

Another rendering of proposed REACH facility that would house academics, startups, government contractors and others focused on beefing up national security systems. (Courtesy of HDR)

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