Candice Alder

Economic Developer
City of Norfolk & Norfolk Area Economic Development Council
309 North 5th Street
Norfolk, NE 68701
Email: calder@norfolkne.gov

Candice Alder is an Economic Developer for the City of Norfolk and the Norfolk Area Economic Development Council. She plays an integral role in business and industry recruitment, retention, and expansion efforts for Madison County. Candice works to facilitate development and redevelopment projects, as well as community revitalization and marketing efforts instrumental to the attraction and retention of workforce in the Norfolk area.

Candice is a member of the Northeast Nebraska Growing Together Initiative, the Northeast Nebraska Development Network, the Greater Norfolk Economic Development Foundation, the Nebraska Economic Developers Association, the National Rural Economic Developers Association and serves as a Nebraska Diplomat. She was nominated as one of the top 20 under 40 professionals in Norfolk in 2020. Candice serves on the board of directors for the Battle Creek Public Schools Foundation and Women Embracing Business, a business and professional women’s group under the Norfolk Area Chamber of Commerce. She also serves on the advisory board for the Connect Young Professionals group in Norfolk.

Candice is a 2018 graduate of the University of Oklahoma’s Economic Development Institute. She holds an Associate of Applied Science degree in Graphic Design, as well as, an Associate of Arts degree in Behavioral Science. Before transitioning to the City of Norfolk in 2013, she was employed at the Northeast Nebraska Economic Development District, a regional economic development organization that specializes in grant writing and administration to enhance community development efforts.

Candice has been married to her husband Steve for 19 years and they have two children, Karlie and Ethan.

Kimberly Anderson

Apprenticeship Director
Northeast Community College
801 E Benjamin Avenue
Norfolk, NE 68701
Email: kander61@northeast.edu

Kim Andersen is the Registered Apprenticeship Director at Northeast Community College in Norfolk, Nebraska. She has spent the last 3 years of her career working with apprenticeship and growing the apprenticeship system in Northeast Nebraska. Her first experience with apprenticeships started at Nebraska Department of Labor as a Workforce Coordinator, where she conducted business outreach to educate them on the apprenticeship model. In October 2019 she became the Registered Apprenticeship Coordinator at Northeast. At Northeast she has developed four registered apprenticeship programs, partnered with seven employers and registered four apprentices and six pre-apprentices. She has spent countless hours educating students, businesses and the general public on the apprenticeship model and that it can be utilized for more than traditional apprenticeable occupations. Kim has the knowledge and experience to continue to propel the apprenticeship program forward and looks forward to continuing that work at Northeast.

Tyler Backemeyer

Director of Sales and Supply Chain
CSS Farms, LLC
5911 2nd Avenue West
Kearney, NE 68847
Email: tyler.backemeyer@cssfarms.com

Tyler Backemeyer grew up on a small farm in Easter Nebraska near Murdock, NE. He received his bachelor’s degree at the University of Nebraska, followed by 6 years of employment in the insurance industry. Tyler eventually found his way back to agriculture and has since worked for CSS Farms, LLC for the past 9 years. Tyler currently serves as the Director of Sales and Supply Chain where he fulfills the duties of Domestic sales, customer service, freight management, and sustainability oversight. Tyler is board member for Potatoes USA, grants wishes for Make-A-Wish foundation, and has served on the Nebraska Potato Development Committee among various other activities. Tyler and his wife (Keely) have four young children that always keep life interesting.

Mary Baumert

Executive Director
Nebraska Association of Meat Processors
215 Center Street
P.O. Box 176
Howells, NE 68641
Email: namp.director@gmail.com

Dr. Baumert has been involved in the agricultural industry from birth. She grew up on a dairy, livestock, and crop operation. During her college years studying to be a pharmacist, she maintained her ties with her family and continues to assist throughout the years. She has added another sector of the industry when she married Ryan Baumert, the owner/operator of Faltin Meat Market in Howells. Now, while working at the Veteran’s Affairs during the day as a clinical pharmacy specialist, she spends time on the evenings and weekends helping with Faltin’s processing and retail operations. Mary began learning about the benefits of the Nebraska Association of Meat Processors (NAMP) at her first conference Ryan took her to. Over the past 7 years, she has understood the importance of supporting our small processors within the state. She has recently taken over the role of the Executive Secretary/Treasurer of NAMP.

Dena Beck

Affiliated Fund Development Coordinator
Nebraska Community Foundation
P.O. Box 83107
Lincoln, NE 0
Email: dbeck@nebcommfound.or

Dena works from her home office north of Minden, Nebraska, providing technical assistance to the NCF affiliated funds in south central Nebraska.
Prior to joining NCF in 2018, Dena served as Senior Project Leader and Business Specialist with the Center for Rural Affairs’ REAP program where she served small businesses in rural communities. She is a “returner” 10 years after graduating from Minden High School, moved back to her hometown where she managed the Minden Chamber of Commerce and helped give life to the Kearney County Economic Development Agency.
Dena graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Horticultural Therapy from Kansas State University and a master’s degree in Organizational Management with minors in entrepreneurship and economic development from Peru State College. Dena also holds a certificate in Community Development Finance from the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy.
She and her husband, David, also a Minden High School graduate and emergency room RN, live on a “ranchette” north of Minden with Great Pyrenees and Irish Wolfhound dogs, cats, goats, chickens, llamas, and cows. They have three daughters, Chloe, Milly, and Sloane.

Andrew William Brandt

Director of Trade Policy
U.S. Grains Council
20 F Street NW, Suite 900
Washington, DC 20001
Email: abrandt@grains.org

Andrew Brandt serves as the Director of Trade Policy for the U.S. Grains Council (USGC), a non-profit organization that promotes the global use of U.S. barley, corn, sorghum and related products including ethanol and distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS).
Prior to joining USGC in 2021, Brandt served as an international trade policy advisory on the Senate Finance Committee. Before joining the Finance committee, he spent five years working in Senator Grassley’s personal office where he focused on policy issues related to international trade, energy, agriculture, and financial services. He has also worked for U.S. Representative Randy Neugebauer (TX-19) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency.
Brandt received his M.B.A from the University of Virginia and his bachelor’s degree in Agribusiness Management from the University of Missouri. He grew up on a diversified livestock and row crop farm in West Central Missouri where he is still actively engaged in both the production and management aspects of the farm.

Devin Brundage

General Manager
Central Nebraska Public Power Irrigation District
415 Lincoln Street
P.O. Box 740
Holdrege, NE 68949
Email: dbrundage@cnppid.com

Following graduation from the University of Nebraska, began a career at The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District as an electrical engineer. In 1994, appointed to Assistant Electrical Superintendent and to Electrical Superintendent in 1995. In this capacity, was privileged to lead the operations and maintenance team and manage direct capital endeavors and improvements for Central’s hydroelectric generating, electrical transmission, communications and control facilities. In 2015, was appointed to the position of Assistant Division Manager and transitioned to the role of Hydro-Electric Division Manager in 2017. Became the General Manager of the District in January 2019.
Blessed to be able to be involved in a number of community organizations and activities. Currently a member of the Gothenburg Public Schools (District 20) Board of Directors. Honored to be part of the Gothenburg Improvement Company, an organization dedicated to economic development and community improvement. Enjoy assisting with the mission of the nonprofit Gothenburg Community Playhouse & Sun Theater and server in various ways, in an effort to ensure its viability for future generations. Graduate of Leadership Nebraska-Class IX and current member of the Nebraska State Chamber Board.

Erin Cobb

Chief, Floodplain Management and Insurance Branch
FEMA R7 – Mitigation Division
Email: erin.cobb@fema.dhs.gov

Ms. Erin Cobb is the Chief of the Floodplain Management & Insurance Branch within the Mitigation Division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region 7. Over the past 18 years, Ms. Cobb has served in a variety of capacities supporting administration of the National Flood Insurance Program at national, regional, state and local levels.
She began her career as a floodplain mapping contractor for FEMA Region 7 before accepting a position in the Mitigation Division of FEMA Region 6 in Texas. In 2011, she transferred to FEMA Headquarters, where she led various aspects of FEMA’s floodplain mapping and floodplain management program operations, including clarifying regulations and developing program policy and guidance. The former National Floodplain Management Training Coordinator, and an educator at heart, Ms. Cobb especially enjoys speaking at conferences and conducting floodplain management trainings and workshops.
A Midwesterner for most of her life, she’s happy to be back in the “Heartland” supporting our State, Local, Tribal and Territorial partners in FEMA Region 7 and looks forward to partnering with you to build resilient communities through sound floodplain management and mitigation.

Joe Cole

Vice President of Administration
Graepel North America Inc.
13220 Lynam Drive
Omaha, NE 68138
Email: joe.cole@graepel-na.com

Graepel North America is a Manufacturer of Perforated Metal Sheet Products for the Agricultural Machinery, Construction Equipment, Heavy Duty Truck and Automotive industries. Graepel offers its OEM customers Project Management, Product and Tooling development, Production, and Surface Coating solutions. Joe Cole started his career in logistics at Werner Enterprises working in operations later transitioning over to Human Resources. Cole began working with Graepel North America in 2010 as an independent contractor assisting with HR functions. In December 2011, he was hired on as the HR Manager and Supply Chain Specialist. A promotion to HR and Supply Chain Manager followed in 2014 – with another promotion to Vice President of Administration in 2016. Cole is responsible for Graepel North America’s supply chain and HR departments. He received his Bachelor of Science from Iowa State University. He lives in Omaha and is married with 4 children.

Cassie Condon

VP of Operations and Marketing
North Platte Area Chamber & Development
502 South Dewey Street
North Platte, NE
Email: cassie@mparea.com

After working in the commercial retail industry for over seventeen years, Condon began her career in Economic Development with the North Platte Area Chamber & Development Corporation in the Fall of 2018. Dedicated to create a stronger community through volunteering, Cassie has recently served as President of the North Platte Business and Professional Women’s group, a member of the North Platte Noon Rotary Club, PopKernel for Scouts Pack 292, McDaid Elementary PTO President, past Board President of the North Platte Area Children’s Museum, and currently serving on the North Platte Catholic School’s Board of Directors and sits as current President. Condon states, “By living in my community and volunteering with my peers, I understand our struggles and strengths, It is by that grace that I am able to better serve those I am around. As a lifelong resident of North Platte, I am passionate about the future growth of our community.”

Bill Dao

North American Chief Representative
Becamex Vietname & Binh Duong Province
10631 Dixon Drive South
Seattle, WA 98178
Email: billdaovn@gmail.com

Bill, serving as North America Chief Representative for Becamex Vietnam & Binh Duong Province, has over 25 years of experience of providing business consultancy and promoting foreign investments into Vietnam, especially in manufacturing and supply chains industries. Bill has been managing more than 30 Vietnam events in US and Canada and bringing many US companies to Vietnam and Southeast Asia. In Vietnam, Bill has worked for US Commercial Service as a Senior Gold Key Executive and Canada Trade Office as a Trade Commissioner to help many US and Canadian companies explore business opportunities in Vietnam. He has also worked directly with more than 500 companies in North America that are interested in Vietnam market. Bill has been bringing many Vietnam business delegations to US and Canada to explore business opportunities there and is an active speaker on Vietnam market. Bill is also Vietnam & Southeast Asia Trade Ambassador and Director for World Trade Center Tacoma in Washington State. Bill holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from University of Economics Ho Chi Minh City (UEH) and another bachelor degree in international business from British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) in Canada. Bill has also got MBA degree from Brussels Liberty University (ULB) in Belgium and is living in Seattle, Washington State. Bill can speak Vietnamese, English, French and Chinese (Mandarin).

M. E. Mai Hung Dung

Vice Governor
Binh Duong Province
Binh Duong Administration Center
02 Le Loi Street, Hoa Phu Ward
Thu Dau Mot City, BinhDuong Province, 0
Email: billdaovn@gmail.com

H.E Mai Hung Dung has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and a Bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Economy. He served from 2006 – 2010 as Vice Mayor for Thuan An City, Binh Duong Province. From 2010 – 2012 he worked as State Chief Inspector for Binh Duong Province. From 2012 – 2016, he served as Minister of the Department of Planning and Investment of Binh Duong Province. From 2016 up to now, he has served as Vice Governor for Binh Duong Province, Vietnam.

Elizabeth Elliott

Director of Transportation & Utilities
City of Lincoln
555 South 10th Street, #208
Lincoln, NE 68508
Email: elizabeth.elliott@lincoln.ne.gov

Elizabeth Elliott is the Director of Lincoln Transportation and Utilities Department (LTU). She is a Nebraska native. Liz holds a juris doctorate degree from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska. She has been the director of LTU since 2020, and prior to that, she handled civil litigation matters in the Lincoln City Attorney’s Office.

Tim Gokie

Chief Engineer, Dam Safety
NE Department of Natural Resources
245 Fallbrook Blvd., Suite 201
Lincoln, NE 68521
Email: tim.gokie@nebraska.gov

Tim Gokie is a professional engineer with over 22 years of experience in water resources engineering. In 2007, he joined the Dam Safety Program in the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources. For the past 8 years, he has served as the Chief Engineer for the Nebraska Dam Safety Program. Tim is a graduate of the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering. Tim lives on a small acreage north of Lincoln with his wife and five children.

Matt Gotschall

College President
Central Community College
3134 West Highway 34
P.O. Box 4903
Grand Island, NE
Email: mgotschall@cccneb.edu

Matt Gotschall is a Nebraska native working in higher education for over 30 years, with over twenty of those being at Central Community College where he now serves as College President. Central Community College serves a 25-county service area and offers comprehensive certificate, diploma and associate degrees. CCC partners with over 80 high schools to offer early college/dual credit coursework while developing an active apprenticeship program for adults. Matt is a Nebraska Diplomat, a member of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce, a commissioner for Rural & Small Colleges for the American Association of Community Colleges, and executive team of the Postsecondary International Network.

Catrina Gray

Apprenticeship Director
Central Community College
Kearney, NE 68847
Email: catrinagray@cccneb.edu

Catrina Gray has spent the last year and a half working strategically with the Nebraska Department of Labor, business leaders, academic deans, faculty, and K-12 partners to identify their needs and develop apprenticeship strategies. She established and registered CCC as a Group Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP) with the United States Department of Labor in April of 2021. CCC launched its first Registered Apprenticeship Program in August of 2021 and now has eight companies and 16 apprentices to date.
Ms. Gray’s various walks of life include living on her own from 17 years of age to serving in the Peace Corps as a fish farmer in Africa and obtaining three degrees over six years. As a single mom of a 12-year-old daughter, she understands what it takes to be dedicated, determined, and disciplined in work, school, and raising a child while starting with no education to accomplish an M.Ed. in Student Affairs.

Matt Dennis & Michael Stepp

215 East Douglas
O’Neill, NE 68763
Email: copper@handlebend.com

Lifelong friends-turned business partners, Michael and Matt share the common sentiment of the importance of raising their families in rural Nebraska. After graduation from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, they each began their respective careers in Omaha and Lincoln. Years in the city-scape helped to highlight their appreciation for their rural upbringing; when the family life began, they found their way “back home” to help run and grow family businesses with their fathers. It was “back home” where their side-project became a successful (albeit unlikely) business building and shipping copper mugs nationwide. 5 years of a growing Handlebend finds them with a remodeled historical O’Neill building, a taproom featuring Nebraska beers and spirits, and a talented team aimed at building community, and promoting the good times spent with family and friends unplugged from the modern hectic life.

Josh Hanson

Great Nebraska On-Stop Operator
Nebraska Department of Labor
371 South Colege Drive
Sidney, NE 69162
Email: josh.hanson@nebraska.gov

I have been with the Nebraska Department of Labor for 6 years. My current role consists of evaluating the American Job Center network structure within the 88 counites of the Greater Nebraska Workforce Development area to continually refine and improve our one-stop service delivery model. Facilitating integrated partnerships that seamlessly incorporate services for common customers served by multiple programs partners of the American Job Centers.

Mike Hilgers

Speaker of the Legislature
State Capitol – Room 2103
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Email: mhilgers@leg.ne.gov

Mike Hilgers was born and raised in Nebraska as the middle of five children. With his wife, Heather, Mike is raising his four children, Alice, Elsie, Clara Jane, and Michael.
Mike Hilgers is a successful attorney with well over a decade of courtroom experience defending his clients’ rights around the country, and he is a small business owner and entrepreneur who founded a nationally recognized company. Mike’s law firm, Hilgers Graben, has reduced costs through innovation and has been named one of the fastest-growing companies in the country. Mike has grown the firm’s headquarters here at home, helping to keep talented Nebraskans in Nebraska while recruiting families to our state. Hilgers Graben PLLC has been named Inc. magazine’s 5000 fastest-growing companies three times.
Mike Hilgers has served in the Legislature since 2017 and has been entrusted with leadership by his colleagues every year since his election. He has served as the Rules Chairman, the Chair of the Executive Board, and was elected the Speaker of the 107th Legislature.
Mike received his degree in economics from Baylor University and he received his law degree from the University of Chicago, where he was an editor of the law review.

Le Phu Hoa

Provincial Minister of Foreign Affairs Department
Binh Duong Province
Binh Duong Administration Center
02 Le Loi Street, Hoa Phu Ward
Thu Dau Mot City, BinhDuong Province, 0
Email: billdaovn@gmail.com

From 1989 – 2000, he served as Official of Foreign Affairs Division of Binh Duong Province.
From 2000 – 2003, he served as Vice Chief of Foreign Affairs Division of Binh Duong Province.
From 2003 – 2006, he served as Chief of Foreign Affairs Division of Binh Duong Province.
From 2007 – 2013, he served as Vice Minister of Department of Foreign Affairs of Binh Duong Province.
From 2013 – present, he has served as Minister of Department of Foreign Affairs of Binh Duong Province, Vietnam.

Lisa Hurley

Executive Director
York County Development Corporation
601 N Lincoln Avenue
York, NE 68467
Email: lhurley@yorkdevco.com

Lisa Hurley, Certified Economic Developer and Economic Developer Master Practitioner, has been the Executive Director of York County Development Corporation since in May 2013. Lisa focuses her efforts on coordinating Business (Retention, Expansion, Recruitment, and Development), marketing efforts, and overseeing other YCDC efforts including housing and workforce efforts. Lisa is the Vice Chair of the Southeast Nebraska Economic Development District, Treasurer/Secretary of the National Rural Economic Development Association, and holds board seats on the following boards: Nebraska Economic Developers Association, York Chamber of Commerce, and York Rotary and sits on the JAG-NE Advisory Committee (Jobs for American Graduates) and JAG-York Advisory Committee.

Randy Kissinger

Reemployment Services Regional Manager
Nebraska Department of Labor
203 East Stolley Park, Suite A
Grand Island, NE 68801
Email: randy.kissinger@nebraska.gov

Lifetime Central Nebraska resident. Bachelor Degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Master’s Degree Studies in Business Administration from the University of Nebraska -Kearney. Regional Re-Employment Services Manager with Nebraska Department of Labor since 1993. Grand Island and Hastings Chamber of Commerce Board Member. Community Liaison to the Grand Island Economic Development Corporation and Economic Development Council of Buffalo County. Multiple other community boards and partnerships.

Rama Kolli

Chief Information Officer
BlueCross and BlueShield of Nebraska
1919 Aksarben Drive
P.O. Box 3248
Omaha, NE 68180
Email: rama.kolli@nebraskablue.com

Rama Kolli is a vice president, and chief information officer for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska (BCBSNE) and is a member on the company’s senior leadership team (SLT).
In his more than 20 years at BCBSNE, Rama has been instrumental in many critical endeavors, including modernizing systems, digital automation, creating a data ecosystem, enabling cloud foundation of the company’s technology future. He also was a member of the business innovation team responsible for providing strategy in addressing the challenges of the health care.
Previously, Rama worked as a consultant New York, Silicon Valley and in India before coming to the United States.
Rama earned a bachelor’s degree in science from Nagarjuna University, India, and a master’s degree in computer applications from the University of Chennai, India. He served as a board member for the AIM Institute, March of Dimes (Nebraska), Nebraska Health Information Initiative (NeHII) technical committee and eHealth Council of Nebraska Information Technology Commission.

Daniel J. Kritenbrink


Daniel J. Kritenbrink became Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs on September 24, 2021. A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, Kritenbrink has been an American diplomat since 1994.
Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (2017-2021), Senior Director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council (2015-2017), and Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing (2013-2015). He also completed multiple other overseas tours in Beijing, Tokyo, Sapporo, and Kuwait City. His other Washington assignments have included Director of the Office of Chinese and Mongolian Affairs at the Department of State and Staff Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs.
A Nebraska native, Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink earned a master’s degree at the University of Virginia, and a bachelor’s degree at the University of Nebraska-Kearney. He speaks Chinese and Japanese.

Brian Kurth

General Manager
McLean Beef Inc.
3208 South Lincoln Avenue
York, NE 68467
Email: brian@mcleanbeef.com

McLean Beef local meats market that provides Excellences in Dry Aged Beef. The front has a retail meat market with a tasting area and restaurant along with 24/7 Beef Vending Machines. In the back is a USDA inspected meat processing consisting of indoor holding pens, kill floor and chilled processing area and aging coolers.
Brian Kurth is the General Manager at Mclean Beef Inc . He is responsible for all aspects of business operations, human resources, USDA compliance through our HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) program, and financial profitability. Brian started out in Oregon on an onion farm and started renting one acre from his father when in Junior High School where he learned to be responsible for when to irrigate, spray, weed and how to market his onions for sale. Brian then got his BS in Agricultural Business Management from Oregon State University. Moving to Nebraska he worked in York at Mycogen Seeds which was part of Dow AgroSciences. Brian worked his way up from the bagging room to working in supply chain where he became the Senior Lead Detail Production Specialist responsible for multi-plant production planning. Brian also became the Mycogen Brand Supply Chain focal point responsible for quality release of all finished hybrid corn bags and proboxes.

Robert Lawson

State Conservationist – Nebraska
USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service
100 Centennial Mall North, Room 152
Lincoln, NE 68508
Email: robert.lawson@usda.gov

Rob Lawson is the State Conservationist for Nebraska USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Rob has worked throughout the Upper Midwest with NRCS for over 19 years. He recently started his current position in February 2022 where he oversees technical and financial assistance to farmers, ranchers, private landowners and local communities of soil, water, wildlife, and other natural resources.
Rob grew up on a family farm in Southeast Iowa and attended Iowa State University.

Charles McWilliams

Program Manager – Drought Response Coordinator
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Omaha District
1616 Capitol Avenue, Suite 9000
Omaha, NE 68102
Email: charles.d.cwilliams@usace.army.mil

Charles “Chuck” McWilliams is currently assigned as the Program Manager and Drought Response Coordinator for the Operations Division, Omaha District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Due to the size of the Omaha District, this requires coordination with representatives from federal, state, and tribal entities across parts of seven states within the Missouri River basin.
Chuck previously served as the Technical Lead for the Meteorology Section of the Risk Management Center’s Hydrologic Hazards Team, responsible for a wide variety of meteorological duties including analysis of extreme storms as part of Corps-wide hydrologic studies. Prior to joining the Corps in 2010, he worked as a meteorologist at KETV in Omaha and has been a member of the Nebraska Army National Guard for more than 19 years. His current rank is Lieutenant Colonel with an assignment as the S-3 Operations Officer for the 67th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Chais & Shawna Meyer

Co-Founders & Owners
Nest:Space – Premier Coworking
2224 Central Avenue
Kearney, NE 68847
Email: hello@chaismeyer.com or hello@shawnameyer.com

Chais and Shawna live and work in Kearney, Nebraska with two daughters (four & eight years old) & three indoor/outdoor pet cats that run the block. 🙂

In 2013, after returning from living in Thailand for two years, Chais and Shawna became active members of the Downtown Kearney Community creating a business called “24 Hour Tees®” (now a National business) and focused their free energy on important community events like the Kearney Night Market.

Chais has served on the Kearney Downtown Improvement Board for 8 years and is aware of the challenges and opportunities associated with operating a successful business while coordinating with local organizations such as the city government, chamber, non-profits, and economic development agencies.

In addition tp 24 Hour Tees, Chais has a three year old business called “Business Integrations” which focuses on building automations for small businesses to help them run lean. They also have a two year old business and coworking space called “Nest:Space – Premier Coworking”. Shawna, a commercial interior designer, has created the look, feel and function of all of their spaces, and she continues to design a better future for businesses around the region.

While most of their launched businesses have been successful, they have developed as much valuable expertise from their failed ventures as their successful ones. They are viewed in Kearney and Central Nebraska as positive and innovative business leaders who want to do more than just better themselves, they want to create an impact throughout the entire state of Nebraska!

The couple has received multiple small business awards, including Congressman Adrian Smith’s Excellence in Economic Development Award and a “Light It Up” Entrepreneurship Award from the University of Nebraska Center for Entrepreneurship and Rural Development.

On top of their ‘for profit’ businesses, Chais & Shawna are currently in progress of launching a statewide non-profit (with a rockstar founding board) designed to help Nebraska based entrepreneurs better thrive through their entrepreneurial journey (this non-profit is something Chais & Shawna wish they had available to them when they got started).

Drew Minert

Chief, Planning Branch
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-Omaha District
1616 Capitol Avenue
Omaha, NE 68102
Email: drew.d.minert@usace.army.mil

Mr. Drew Minert is the Planning Branch Chief for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District. Mr. Minert has over 14 years of USACE planning and economics experience including serving as the economics lead on several large and complex flood risk management, dam safety, and ecosystem restoration studies.
Mr. Minert also serves on the USACE National Nonstructural Committee as an economics expert. He has a Master of Science degree in Risk Management from Notre Dame of Maryland University as well as Bachelor of Science degrees in Economics and Statistics from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Gary Person

North Platte Area Chamber & Development
502 South Dewey Street
North Platte, NE 
Email: gary@nparea.com

Gary Person has served the past seven years as President and CEO of the 600-business member North Platte Area Chamber and Development Corporation. The organization is a combined economic development corporation and chamber of commerce. Gary is a life-long Nebraskan, having grown up on a small farm-ranch in Banner County near the Wyoming border.
North Platte was recently named Governor Ricketts “2021 Showcase Nebraska Economic Development Community of the Year.” North Platte currently has approximately $1 billion of new development projects in the development stage.
Gary’s past professional experiences include being the editor of three newspapers, managing two Chambers of Commerce’s and three economic development organizations: owning a public relations company and serving as the Director of the Western Office of the Governor for four years under Gov. Kay Orr. He served 16 years as Sidney City Manager from 1999-2015 during a time Sidney tripled its economy. During his 29-year tenure in Sidney as the city-county economic development director, Cheyenne County grew by $1 billion in valuation.

Gary served as state president of the Nebraska Economic Developers Association in 1995; state president of the Nebraska Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) in 1989-90 when it was ranked number one in America, and two years in the immediate past president’s role of the Nebraska City Manager’s Association. In 1989 he was named the Outstanding Young Nebraskan of the Year. He has served on 40 different local, regional and statewide board of directors. He recently served on the advisory steering committee for the Blue Print Nebraska initiative.
He holds degrees in mass communications from the University of Nebraska at Kearney and Nebraska Western College. In 1996 he was honored as the Nebraska Community College Distinguished Alumni of the Year. In 2009 he was inducted into the Nebraska Junior Chamber of Commerce Hall of Fame. Seven years ago, he was asked by U.S. Senator Mike Johanns to testify in Washington D.C. before a congressional subcommittee on rural job creation and regional economic growth strategies.
In 2014 he was honored as the Nebraska Economic Development Professional of the Year by NEDA.

Brad Pierce

Director, Division of Reemployment Services
NE Department of Labor
550 South 16th Street
Lincoln, NE 68508
Email: bradley.pierce@nebraska.gov

Bradley has served as Director of the Nebraska Department of Labor (NDOL) Division of Reemployment Services (DRS) since 2020. The DRS strengthens Nebraska’s economy by providing meaningful workforce services that help individuals quickly reenter the workforce, improve earning potential, and develop pipelines of skilled workers that meet the evolving needs of local industry throughout 14 career centers in Nebraska.
Previously, Bradley worked as a Business Recruitment Project Manager and Talent Development Coordinator for the Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED). He performed a variety of functions at DED to include business recruitment, business retention and expansion, workforce grant management, and critical industry support with an emphasis on the manufacturing and production sectors.
Bradley has served in the Nebraska Army National Guard for nearly 10 years with overseas service in multiple continents.

Nicholas Raimondo

Vice President of International, Legal and Tax
Behlen Mfg. Co.
4025 East 23rd Street
Columbus, NE 68602
Email: nicholas.raimondo@behlenmfg.com

Nicholas is V.P. of International, Legal, and Tax at Behlen Mfg. Co., a diversified steel manufacturing company specializing in metal buildings, grain silos, agriculture equipment, and custom fabrication. Nicholas and a growing international team oversee Behlen’s foreign operation and expansion. Nicholas received his J.D. with a concentration in Tax Law from the University of California Hastings College of the Law and is an active member of the California and Nebraska Bar Associations. He began his legal career at an accounting firm, specializing in State and Local Tax planning for multistate corporations. This experience exposed Nicholas to the various legal and tax issues facing multijurisdictional businesses. Nicholas is proud to apply his skills to a Nebraska based business, where he grew up and received a Bachelor of Music degree from Hastings College.

Marysz Rames

Wayne State College
1111 Main Street
Wayne, NE 68787
Email: marames1@wsc.edu

Dr. Marysz Rames was appointed the 13th president of Wayne State College in 2015. Her tenure has been marked by a strong focus on the future of the college’s academic programs, partnerships, Strategic Enrollment Planning, fundraising, raising the College’s visibility, and constructing and renovating facilities to enhance student learning. Under President Rames’ leadership, Wayne State’s total enrollment has increased by 20% and academic programs have grown from 90 to 130 with a focus on degrees that align with the changing work force needs. Additionally, there has been a focus on building relationships and solidifying partnerships with the University of Nebraska system, community colleges, and school districts to provide students with seamless pathways to reaching their goal of earning a degree.
Dr. Rames earned her doctorate in adult and higher education from the University of South Dakota. She earned her bachelor of science degree in business administration and communication studies, with a minor in economics and her master’s degree in educational administration from University of Northern Colorado.
She came to Wayne State from Dakota State University in S.D., where she had served as interim president since Aug. 15, 2014. Prior to her interim appointment, Dr. Rames served as the vice president for student affairs from 2000 to 2015 at South Dakota State University.

Jamie Reinke

NE Department of Natural Resources
245 Fallbrook Blvd., Suite 201
Lincoln, NE 68521
Email: jamie.reinke@nebraska.gov

Jamie Reinke joined NeDNR in March 2016 as a Water Resources Engineer in the Floodplain Management Section and serves as the team leader, state CTP manager, and interim state NFIP coordinator. She is responsible for developing guidelines and procedures for mapping work, reviewing and conducting hydrologic and hydraulic studies, overseeing technical staff, and reviewing engineering and mapping submittals. Jamie also coordinates with consulting firms that are completing contracted CTP projects and performing technical reviews submitted by local jurisdictions. Jamie spent the previous four years at the Nebraska Department of Transportation in the Bridge Hydraulics Section completing hydrologic and hydraulic analyses for bridge design, performing project reviews, and consultant coordination. Jamie was also responsible for managing the NDOT Bridge Division floodplain management program. Prior to her experience at NDOT, Jamie has over six years of experience with engineering consultants.

Tom Riley

NE Department of Natural Resources
245 Fallbrook Blvd, Suite 201
Lincoln, NE 68521
Email: tom.riley@nebraska.gov

Tom is the Director at the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources (the Department). He is a graduate of the University of Nebraska where he received a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering and a Master of Science in Civil Engineering. He is a registered professional engineer in Nebraska and a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers. He has worked with water users and stakeholders across the state of Nebraska to help solve their unique and challenging water resource problems. Prior to coming to the Department, he spent over three decades consulting for customers across the Nebraska and the country, most recently at the Flatwater Group, where he was a company founder. Tom has worked extensively on Nebraska’s compacts and decrees along with consumptive management projects throughout the state. His water projects include irrigation and water supply, conjunctive management, restoration of Nebraska’s unique saline wetlands, and stream and reservoir restoration.

Chris Roth

Reinke Manufacturing Company Inc.
1040 Road 5300
P.O. Box 566
Deshler, NE 68340
Email: chrisroth@reinke.com

Chris Roth is the president of Reinke Manufacturing Co., Inc., the world’s largest privately held manufacturer of center pivot and lateral move irrigation systems. Family owned since 1954, and headquartered in Deshler, Nebraska, Reinke develops products and technology designed to increase agricultural production while providing labor savings and environmental efficiencies. Reinke is a continued leader in industry advancements related to precision water application.
Along with the stability that being family owned and being in business for over 60 years provides, Reinke also has company locations and irrigation system installations on every continent. Reinke is proud to produce the world’s finest irrigation systems.
Chris Roth is an active member on various boards ranging from the National Association of Manufacturers and the Irrigation Association at the federal level to the past Chair of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and currently serves on the board of directors of Invest Nebraska, Inc. and Byran Health at the state level and many others. He earned his accounting business degree from the University of Nebraska. Prior to his career with Reinke, he was a certified public accountant with KPMG.

Jennifer Schellpeper

Environmental Manager
NE Department of Natural Resources
245 Fallbrook Blvd, Suite 201
Lincoln, NE 68521
Email: jennifer.schellpeper@nebraska.gov

Jennifer is the Division Manager for the Water Planning Division at the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources (the Department). During her 20 years at the Department, she has held a variety of responsibilities beginning in groundwater and surface water permitting, then moving to planning to coordinate implementation of the newly settled North Platte Decree and the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program. Since the passage of new laws in 2004, she has worked with other Department team members to develop and implement integrated management plans, including focused work on education and outreach about integrated management planning in Nebraska. In her current role as Division Manager, she manages the development and implementation of integrated management plans across the state and coordinates implementation of interstate water agreements. Jennifer holds a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in natural resources management with specializations in math and water science.

Adam Siegfried

Coppermill Steakhouse
202 North Highway U.S. 83
McCook, NE 69001
Email: asiegfried@coopermillsteakhouse-mccook.com

  • Majority Owner: Coppermill Steakhouse, McCook NE
  • Co-owner: Coppermill Steakhouse, Kearney, NE
  • Co-owner: Loop Brewing Company, McCook, NE

Adam is a native Nebraskan who grew up in McCook and started working at a very young age as a feed lot cowboy. Following high school, Adam went on to become a professional hunting guide in Kansas, and a sport fishing guide in Alaska. Adam also worked at Connealy Angus Ranch in Whitman, NE during the hunting & fishing off-seasons.
In 2010, Adam entered the small business world, buying The Coppermill Steakhouse in McCook. The following year, along with partner, Tyler Loop, the Loop Brewing Company opened, specializing in craft beer and brick oven pizzas. In 2016, the business partners opened a second Coppermill Steakhouse in Kearney.
Adam has been married for six years to his wife, Lindsey, and they have two children, Ronin and Ophelia.

Michael Sousek

General Manager
Lower Elkhorn NRD
1508 Square Turn Blvd.
Norfolk, NE 68701
Email: msousek@lenrd.org

Michael Sousek is the General Manager of the Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources District. He received a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in Biology from Wayne State College. Some years later he also received a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Nebraska in Omaha. He has been employed in the NRD system for 20 years and is dedicated to the sustainability of our natural resources. Outside of work, Michael is a dedicated father of three children, he enjoys the outdoors, especially bodies of water with plenty of fish in them.

Jessica Spreitzer

Director of Trade Analysis
U.S. Meat Export Federation
1600 Lincoln Street, Suite 2800
Denver, CO 80264
Email: jspreitzer@usmef.org

Jessica Spreitzer is the U.S. Meat Export Federation’s Director, Trade Analysis. In her role at USMEF, Jessica works with a wide variety of databases and information sources to provide market analysis on the U.S. red meat industry and global trade to both international and domestic stakeholders. She also contributes to USMEF’s red meat export forecasts and reports. Jessica joined USMEF in 2014 after receiving her M.A. in International Development with a focus on Food Security from the University of Denver. She holds a B.S.M. in Business Management and International Development from Tulane University.

Angie Stenger

Executive Director
Growing Together
214 North 7th Street, Suite 3
Norfolk, NE 68701
Email: angie@growingtogetherne.com

Angie Stenger is the Executive Director of Growing Together Northeast Nebraska – an Aksarban Workforce Initiative. Prior to taking on this role, Angie was the general manager of the Flood Communications Norfolk division which includes 2 radio stations and is the main control room for News Channel Nebraska. For 14 years, she co-hosted the US92 morning show which often included many morning laughs and a cooking segment in the studio kitchen.
Angie grew up in southeast Iowa where started in radio at the age of 15 and worked on-air at the local station. While in high school, she also graduated from the World Wide College of Auctioneering; she still uses this skill when called up for community events and fundraisers.. A graduate of Goshen College in Indiana, Angie worked in radio in South Bend where she met Mike Flood, who convinced her Nebraska was paradise. In May of 2000 she moved to Norfolk to help launch the first station for Flood Communications.
In her free time, Angie loves cooking, traveling and spending time with her husband Jeremy and their 5th grade daughter Josie.

Nicki Stoltenberg

Academy Partnership Liaison
Grand Island Senior High
2124 North Lafayette Avenue
Grand Island, NE 68803
Email: nstoltenberg@gips.org

Nicki Stoltenberg is getting ready to embark on her 5th year as the Academy Partnership Liaison a Grand Island Senior High. Nicki has seen the Academy Model grow over the past 4 years primarily working students with Work-Based learning opportunities (ie industry tours, job shadows, internships, etc.). She is also the primary point person for all six of the Academy Advisory Boards at Senior High.
Nicki has served her community in a variety of volunteer capacities with her most rewarding one CURRENTLY being a Teammate mentor to Shaden, who will be a Sophomore this year at Senior High.

Dennis Strauch

Retired Manager of Pathfinder Irrigation District
Natural Resource Commission Member
50189 Hilyard Drive
Mitchell, NE 69357
Email: dennis@pathfinderirrigation.com

Retired on January 1, 2022, as the General Manager for the Pathfinder Irrigation District a position held since 1990, having over 30 years of experience in irrigation system management. Overseed the operation of one of the largest irrigation districts in Nebraska, serving over 865 irrigators with water for 118,000 acres in Western Nebraska and Eastern Wyoming.

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  • Represents the water users above Lake McConaughy on the Governance Committee for the Plate River Recovery Implementation Program. A position he has held since 1997.
  • Governor appointment to serve on the Water Policy Task Force and the Water Funding Task Force representing surface water irrigators.
  • Past President and current Secretary/Treasurer for the Nebraska State Irrigation Association.
  • Past President of the Four States Irrigation Council.
  • Executive Director of the North Platte Valley Irrigators Association.
  • Past member of the Water Research Advisory Panel for the University of Nebraska.
  • Appointed to represent irrigation districts on the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission. Chairman of the Commission 2017-18.
  • Member & Past President of the Scottsbluff/Gering Chamber Agribusiness Committee.
  • Director/Officer on the Mitchell Foundation for Academic Excellence.


  • Named Scottsbluff Star-Herald Citizen of the Year 2007
  • 2003 Outstanding Service Award from the University of Nebraska Panhandle Research & Extension Center.
  • President’s Award from the Nebraska State Irrigation Association.
  • 2010 Nebraska Headgate Award Recipient
  • Named to the Nebraska Hall of Agricultural Achievement – 2016

John Thorburn

Tri Basin NRD
1723 Burlington Street
Holdrege, NE 68984
Email: jthorburn@tribasinnrd.org

John Thorburn is general manager of Tri-Basin Natural Resources District in Holdrege. He is originally from Norfolk, Nebraska. He graduated from Kearney State College (now UNK) in 1990 with a Bachelor of Science in Geography. He earned his Masters degree in Geography/Natural Resources Management from the University of Wyoming in 1993.
After graduation, John served as coordinator of a non-point source pollution education program Upper Elkhorn NRD in O’Neill until he was hired as Manager of Tri-Basin NRD in 1995. John and his wife, Deb, have three children: Jim, Mary and Joseph.

Ace VanDeWalle

Ord Locker
81380 N State Highway 11
Ord, NE 68862
Email: ord_locker@hotmail.com

I recieved a Bachelors and Master’s Degree in Meat Science from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I bought the Ord Locker along with my sister Ida, in April of 2015 from Larry Freouf. We broke ground on a new facility in October of 2019 and got into our new 8500 square foot facility in August of 2020. Ord Locker is currently a Custom Exempt meat processing facility, working towards becoming USDA Federally Inspected.

Cicely Wardyn

Assistant Director
NE Department of Agriculture
245 Fallbrook Blvd, Suite 200
P.O. Box 94947
Lincoln, NE 68521
Email: cicely.wardyn@nebraska.gov

Cicely Wardyn serves as the Assistant Director for the Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA). She assumed this role in the summer of 2021 and is responsible for both regulatory and promotional activities within NDA. Her team leads the Department’s efforts for agriculture promotion and development. This responsibility encompasses both domestic programs and incentives for ag producers and companies, as well as developing international markets for Nebraska ag products.
Prior to serving as the Assistant Director, Mrs. Wardyn was an agricultural legislative aide for U.S. Senator Deb Fischer in Washington, D.C. She grew up on her family’s row-crop farm north of Lexington, Nebraska and is passionate about keeping the agricultural industry in Nebraska vibrant and dynamic.
Mrs. Wardyn holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in Global Studies and German Language from Nebraska Wesleyan University and a Master of Science degree in Agricultural Economics from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She speaks intermediate German.

Paul Weiss

Liaison Manager
Food Export Midwest
309 West Washington, Suite 600
Chicago, IL 60606
Email: pweiss@foodexport.org

Paul joined Food Export-Midwest in September of 2011 as a member of the Liaison team. The Liaisons provide outreach and customer service to the Midwest food supplier participants in our programs. Paul now oversees the staff of three Midwest Liaisons based out of Chicago.
Paul earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Agriculture Economics with a focus on international trade from the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign). He gained international exposure and Spanish language skills while studying abroad in both Argentina and Costa Rica.

Joni Wheeler

Executive Vice President, Talent and Enterprise Solutions
BlueCross and BlueShield of Nebraska
1919 Aksarben Drive
P.O. Box 3248
Omaha, NE 68180
Email: joni.wheeler@nebraskablue.com

Joni Wheeler is the executive vice president of talent and enterprise solutions at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska (BCBSNE).
Wheeler joined BCBSNE in 2014 while also serving as the president and CEO of CoreLink Administrative Solutions. Serving in dual roles afforded Wheeler the opportunity to fuel her professional passions of people leadership and transformation. She follows a servant-leadership mantra and believes in fostering a culture in which integrity, authenticity, empowerment, teamwork, collaboration and fun are modeled as a standard mode of operation.
Prior to CoreLink and BCBSNE, Wheeler held several leadership positions at First Data Corporation, as well as system design and management roles for West Corporation.
Wheeler is active in community service and currently serves on the board of directors for ICAN, Boys Town National Board of Trustees, Bread for the Journey and the Child Saving Institute, as well as talent track lead for the Omaha Chamber’s Thrive 2020 initiative. She is also part of a UNO women’s Maverick basketball mentoring program and is a strong advocate for mental illness programs for children.
Wheeler studied English and pre-law at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

Kelsie & Justin Wilson

The Danish Bakery
114 Mill Street
Dannebrog, NE 68831
Email: kelsie.wilson11@gmail.com

Hi, we are Justin and Kelsie Wilson, world travelers and teachers, turned Bakers at our small-town business, the Danish Bakery. We bought the bakery at the beginning of 2020 to continue on the legacy of the place. Kelsie is a local to Dannebrog, NE., while Justin grew up overseas in Papua New Guinea. We didn’t know much when we started, but as we learn more we discover we know even less then we did before; however, we continue on and love being owners of a small business.

Mary Wilson

Keith County Area Development
10 N Spruce Street, Suite C
P.O. Box 418
Ogallala, NE 69153
Email: mary.wilson@kcad.org

Mary Wilson has been with Keith County Area Development (KCAD) in Ogallala for six years, serving in the Director role. KCAD focuses on providing leadership for business, community, and housing development throughout Keith, including Ogallala, Paxton, Brule and Lake McConaughy. Building strong partnerships with other organizations and entities has been instrumental in capitalizing on recent growth opportunities and will continue to be a priority for KCAD. Mary and her husband Brian keep busy with their two daughters, Andersyn and Blake and they are also owners/operators of multiple pharmacy businesses.

John Worthington

IBT Online
Email: jw@ibt.onl

John Worthington is the CEO of IBT Online. He brings decades of successful international business development experience to clients. Being deeply involved in international online operations, digital marketing and sales management programs; John is a frequent keynote speaker at export and international business events. A founding partner at IBT Online at its creation in 2002, John started his professional career in London qualifying as a Chartered Accountant. Today, he is an acknowledged expert in the field of international online business development. John sits on the board of a number of international companies on both sides of the Atlantic. John manages overall operations as well as directing his team to assist companies in optimizing their online presence in international markets.
Since 2002, IBT Online, proud recipient of the President’s “E” Award for Export Service, specializes in providing online business development tools to U.S. exporters to help them grow exports, sales, brand and business globally.
Over the years, we have evolved our Online Global programs which have a proven track record delivering measurable exports, sales, brand, and business growth for our corporate clients, through best-practice, website localization, international online marketing, and ecommerce to help your international prospects, customers and partners find you, understand your company, and do business with you by giving them an online Local User eXperience (LUX) in their language(s) and market(s). https://www.ibt.onl/

Anna Zeleny

Oakland Processing
31 N Oakland Avenue
Oakland, NE 68045
Email: oaprocessing@hotmail.com

Aunbrea Zeleny (goes by Anna) has worked at the Oakland Processing Plant for her father-in-law for the last 8 to 9 years. She started as a meat wrapper, then began answering the phone, taking cutting orders, and doing more customer service. Eventually started undertaking more responsibilities of the family business, i.e., finances, advertising, taxes, etc.

She has 2 children, Michael and Brody, and have been with her significant other for the last 12 years. As a family, they are highly involved in wrestling and now they cooperatively coach. They enjoy building demo cars and competing in demolition derbies, and in the summer, you will find them fishing or boating on the Missouri River.

Conference Information

Younes Conference Center North707 West Talmadge StreetKearney, NE 68845

Date: Thursday, August 8 | 2024
8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Event Registration

Registration will open on June 1, 2024