Omaha: Growing Fields of Opportunities in Defense, Cyber
Offutt Air Force Base, located 10 miles south of Omaha, has been on the map as a major defense hub since World War II. A thriving area of operations in the Cold War, in 1992 Offutt’s Strategic Air Command (SAC) stood down, and United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM) was stood up, one of nine unified commands for the United States Military.
Much of the Omaha defense industry supports the Offutt Air Force Base and STRATCOM mission, focusing on three lines of business – nuclear deterrence, space, and cyberspace. There are more than 65 defense contractors operating in the Omaha region. Offutt Air Force Base alone had a $2.9 billion economic impact in 2010.
The Omaha community has worked hard to support the defense element of the economy, with a Military Target Advisory Group and the Nebraska Military Support Coalition actively working to ensure a strong military presence – and ongoing military business – in the region. This support helped Omaha become the active base community of the year for 2010, as recognized by the Association of Defense Communities.
“It’s a tribute to the partnerships that have been established over the years,” said Ned Holmes, business development representative and senior military liaison for the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce. Holmes highlighted Omaha’s leading infrastructure, including its vast telecom capabilities, as key in attracting both government and industry to the region.
“Infrastructure was built into the community that was valuable to the growth of business,” he said. “Telecom capabilities that were built up for SAC have benefited business…there’s a great relationship between the base and the private sector.”
Job market offers a range of defense industry opportunities
When it comes to jobs, technical and cyber skills rule but business, finance and other industries are also hiring. With so many defense industry employers in the area – including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, SAIC, CACI, CSC and a number of small businesses and defense contractors – there are ongoing hiring needs for cleared professionals with a variety of skills. The available talent, Offutt Air Force Base and friendly business practices have made Omaha a popular place for start-ups and small companies, providing real diversity in employment opportunities. McCallie Associates is just one example – a Bellevue, Neb. company that got its start serving local customers, it now provides IT services and operational support to government and commercial clients across the United States. STRATCOM maintains the global cyber mission, with oversight of U.S. Cyber Command, which recently stood up in Fort Meade, Md. With a combination of cyberspace, nuclear deterrence, space and aircraft missions, STRATCOM continues to generate demand for security-cleared talent, and that has only increased over the past several years.
“People know that cybersecurity is a hot career field,” said Evan Lesser, managing director of ClearanceJobs.com. “But some fail to realize the opportunities that are out there globally, not just in the national capital region. Omaha is one example of that. People with the right technical skills, experience or education and security clearance will find great career opportunities in Omaha.”
Companies are hiring software and systems engineers, as well as systems administrators and developers. Thanks to the U.S. Air Force Weather Agency and the 55th Wing of the U.S. Air Force, jobs range from meteorology to mechanics. Core missions are in space, cyberspace, global weather, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
The Omaha community
The military population on Offutt Air Force Base is approximately 10,000, but an additional 22,000 civilian and contract defense workers, as well as retirees and dependents, make their home in the Omaha area. The region has become a popular one for many, who consider it an untapped gem in the job market – unemployment is currently at 4.9 percent, well below the national average, and cost of living averages 10-12 percent below the national average. The average home price is just $114,997. A low level of crime, a diverse range of outdoor activities and smog-free living have made it an attractive place to live and work for both families and young people. Omaha workers can find themselves living in rural areas, Omaha’s bustling downtown loft scene or even the many suburbs including Papillion, Ralston, Bellevue, or Council Bluffs, Ia.
For folks arriving from the coasts, it’s the little things that make Omaha jobs stand out – including commute times averaging 18 minutes and the great opportunities for continuing education and professional development. There are more than sixteen public and private higher education institutions in Omaha, including the University of Nebraska College of Law, which has the only Master of Law degree in space law in the country.
While other cities are just coming to grips with critical shortages in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and cybersecurity skills, Omaha has long put a focus on growing its technology workforce, with premier programs such as the Peter Kiewit Institute ensuring a continual flow of skilled talent.
With an educated workforce, global command center and a community committed to ensuring military missions remain long term, defense industry jobs in Omaha are only expected to grow. And with STRATCOM maintaining the helm of the global cyber mission – and the growing recognition of the need for strong cyber defenses – technical trades and cyber skills will remain in demand.