Workshops and Farm Tours for Nebraska’s Latino Farmers

Aspiring Latino farmers in Nebraska now have the opportunity to attend Spanish-language workshops through CFRA’s Beginning Latino Farmer Program. Designed to improve the viability of Latino farmers in the state, these workshop sessions bring business management, leadership, and production skills to attendees.

Our first series of workshops was held in Lexington, NE, where 10 participants joined CFRA bilingual staff at the public library. Speakers from the Farm Service Agency, small business owners, farmers, and educators shared their expertise over the course of the 10-week class series. Each session was complete with a visual presentation and hard-copy curriculum for take-home use.

This summer, the group has already completed one day of farm tours, and will hold one more tour day on August 18. Beginners gained valuable knowledge during both classroom workshop sessions and farm tours. Not only are they learning the ins and outs of owning a small agricultural enterprise, but they are also becoming more aware of and connected to the support-systems and community resources that can ultimately create strong individual farmers as well a hearty farmer network in Nebraska.

Our June tour day took the group to the Highland Park Farmers’ Market in Hastings, where direct-marketing to the consumer was highlighted. Travelling next to North Star Neighbors near Fullerton, farmers discussed cooperative arrangements and poultry production. Our last stop at Garcia Farms near Wood River gave the group insight into a very diversified operation, from on-site value-adding to hog and vegetable production. We look forward to another inspiring day of farm tours in August.

Contact me, Erin, to find out more about the August 18th tour: erinf@cfra.org , or check here on our Events calendar. Read more about Workshops and Farm Tours for Nebraska’s Latino Farmers

  • Farm PolicyBeginning Farmer & Rancher
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Partisan Rancor Prevents a Meaningful Farm Bill

If you have been following the farm bill process then you know it has been a rough and pretty interesting debate. On the eve of the August Congressional Recess, here's a report on how things stand.

On June 20, 2013, the US House of Representatives rejected passage of the farm bill by a vote of 234-195. The bill was defeated largely because of the huge cuts and changes to the nutrition title, the legislative section that provides for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) and other nutrition programs for low-income families.

The US House of Representatives came back at it, and on July 11, 2013, passed a farm bill on the second try this year by a vote of 216-208. This farm bill, however, was missing the nutrition title, and no amendments were allowed to be offered on the floor during debate.

An amendment introduced by Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) in the earlier farm bill debate – the one that failed – was retained in this bill. It places meaningful limits on how much any one farm operation can receive in federal farm program payments. Rep. Fortenberry’s determined championing of farm program payment limit reform is laudable and a bright spot in what otherwise was a discouraging debate over farm, food, and rural policy.

Sadly, the House farm bill fails to hold crop insurance premium subsidies to the same standard as farm program payments, continuing to allow the nation’s largest farms and wealthiest farmers to receive crop insurance premium subsidies every year on every acre regardless of price, production, or profitability, with no limits whatsoever.

Moreover, the House farm bill fails to tie crop insurance to conservation compliance or to prevent breaking of native grassland for crop production. It also fails to adequately invest in conservation and rural development, small business development in particular.

Arguably, the ugliest facet of this farm bill process was the turn toward partisan rancor. In the end, every House Democrat voted against the bill. All but 12 Republicans voted in favor. The farm bill should reflect rural America’s priorities and not get bogged down in petty partisan politics.

What is next? That remains to be seen. We do know the US House of Representatives sent their bill to the US Senate on July 16, 2013. That gets them closer to going to conference committee with the Senate to work out the differences. But therein is the key question – how do they resolve the differences in such vastly different bills? Stay tuned and we will keep you posted. Read more about Partisan Rancor Prevents a Meaningful Farm Bill

  • Farm PolicyFarm Bill
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Recharged: Energy Interns Go to Des Moines

On a recent Monday morning, Lucas Nelsen and I took a road trip to attend a transmission route planning meeting in Des Moines hosted by ITC Midwest, a transmission developer. Lucas hadn’t been through Iowa in about a decade, and I had never spent much time in the state.

We were surprised to see a constant flow of massive turbine blades being trucked down I-80. They moved gracefully down the interstate like massive whales in a sea of small vehicles. We were also blown away by the scale of the 193-turbine Rolling Hills wind farm in Adair, IA. Everywhere we looked we saw a spinning wind turbine.

Soon we arrived at the ITC meeting to discuss the proposed routing of the Minnesota-Iowa project. Two proposed segments of line were given extended airtime – a segment that will run north and east of Forest City, IA, and another segment that will run east of the Union Slough National Wildlife Refuge.

The primary concerns raised related to the safety of waterfowls and the desired expansion of pre-existing transmission easements to run alongside Wetland Reserve Program land. The meeting was great. It provided us with an opportunity to work with ITC and address public concerns.

The Des Moines trip was an excellent experience. From this short hop over the state line, we realized our efforts are making a difference. We are excited to continue working on these important issues.

Later this August, both Lucas and I should be concluding big research papers we’ve been working on. Lucas’ paper will discuss concerns landowners have related to transmission development. My paper will explore how to minimize the use of eminent domain when assembling land for transmission corridors.

Thank you for your support!

Brandon, Lucas, and the Energy Team (aka Virginia, Brian, and Johnathan) Read more about Recharged: Energy Interns Go to Des Moines

  • Clean Energy
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Waiting for Wind

The long wait is finally over. After years of research, debate, and political bickering, the Nebraska Unicameral recently passed a bill that offers wind developers incentives for building in Nebraska. Unfortunately, however, it fails to provide an incentive for developing wind right – in a manner that maximizes Nebraska ownership, wealth, and business opportunities.

Legislative Bill 104 provides a sales tax exemption for new renewable electric generation projects. The Center for Rural Affairs worked to tie the sales tax exemption to purchases from Nebraska businesses, employment of local workers, and creation of employee stock ownership arrangements.

Simply put the bill as passed hands over incentives just for showing up. We and most other Nebraska organizations that support wind development argued unsuccessfully to require that you invest in Nebraska before the state invests in you.

LB 104 is a step in the right direction. By encouraging wind developers to build in Nebraska, this bill helps grow the rural economy. New jobs will be created, schools and roads will improve, and com¬munities will experience an influx of activity. The state is better for it.

But it’s important to remember just how much was left on the table. While neighboring states have benefited from the economic development wind energy offers, many rural leaders will tell you that requiring investment in local communities is a requirement worth making. Instead of flowing to out-of-state contractors, accountants, and engineers, money would instead be used to bolster existing businesses and help fund new enterprises.

And extending the opportunity to own a piece of wind farms to the rural Nebraskans who climb the turbines to keep them running would have been good for the entire community. It builds local wealth and the economic resilience of residents.

Encouraging local ownership and supporting local businesses helps build the Nebraska economy, not just a project. That’s important to the future of Nebraska, rural and urban alike. The Center for Rural Affairs supported passage of LB 104, but we know that Nebraska can do better. With your help we’ll work hard during the next legislative session to make sure our elected officials get it right. Read more about Waiting for Wind

  • Clean Energy
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Fresh Food and Opportunity at Your Local Farmers Market

August 4th – 10th is National Farmers Market Week. Farmers Markets are expanding to communities across the nation at an amazing rate. Since 1994, the number of farmers markets in the USDA National Farmers Market Directory has more than quadrupled. Last year the number of farmers markets reached 7,864 and this year that number will most likely top 8,000 by a considerable margin when the results of the annual Directory update are announced this week as a part of the USDA celebration of National Farmers Market Week.

Farmers Markets are good for rural communities. They bring farmers and consumers together, create a stronger local economy, provide consumers with fresh, nutritious, affordable local food, and create opportunities for family farmers and ranchers - especially beginners - to diversify their operations and sell what they produce.

Make sure you visit your local Farmers Market this week and return often. To find a farmers market near you check out the USDA National Farmers Market Directory (http://search.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets/).

If you don’t have a Farmers Market nearby, you can help create one in your community. Get started by calling the Center for Rural Affairs at 402.687.2100 and asking for the Farm Bill Helpline and then check out USDA’s Farmers Market Promotion Program (http://www.ams.usda.gov/fmpp/), which provides an excellent opportunity for market farmers, market gardeners and rural communities to establish and promote farmers markets and other direct-to-consumer food marketing. Read more about Fresh Food and Opportunity at Your Local Farmers Market

  • Small TownsCommunity Food
Weekly column

House Farm Bill Out of Touch with Rural Americans

The US House of Representatives’ farm bill is out of touch with rural America in its disregard for protecting the small town and rural way of life. If and when a conference committee meets to produce a final farm bill, it should incorporate the Senate’s rural development provisions.

Last month, I reported on our bipartisan poll of rural voters in the Southeast, Midwest, and Great Plains. Nearly 9-in-10 rural Americans say the rural and small town way of life is worth fighting for and protecting; but 7-in-10 worry it is dying. Three-fourths blame politicians for ignoring problems of rural and small town America.

They have a point. Our 2007 study found USDA invested only half as much in rural development programs to serve millions of people in the 20 rural counties suffering the worst population decline in each of 13 leading farm states, as it spent just to subsidize the 20 largest farms in each of those states. It’s not getting better. Real federal investment in helping small towns and rural entrepreneurs has fallen by half over the last decade.

The House farm bill would make it worse, jeopardizing the continued existence of USDA’s primary rural small business development program – the Rural Microenterprise Development Program. It would receive zero funding, resulting in less financing and business planning assistance for rural small businesses. The House would provide zero funding for the small towns on a long waiting list for USDA loans and grants to make critical upgrades to their water and sewer systems.

The House farm bill flies in the face of rural American’s priorities. Of those polled, 8-in-10 support grants and loans to revitalize small towns through upgrades to water and sewer systems. Over half said “owning my own business or farm is a big part of the American dream for me.” Three-fourths agreed with federal funding for small business loans and training.

The rural voters polled had a common-sense approach to finding the money to pay for it. Three-fourths said “stop over subsidizing the nation’s largest farms to drive smaller operations out of business.”

The House bill does include one step in that direction, sponsored by Nebraska Representative Jeff Fortenberry. It would close loopholes and tighten limits on traditional farm program payments to mega farms. But it would place no limits on what has become the primary farm program – federal crop insurance. If one corporation farmed all of America, taxpayers would foot 60 percent of its crop insurance premiums every year on every acre.

The House farm bill is out of touch with rural America and the commitment of rural people to protect the small town and rural way of life.

Find more on the poll of rural voters on federal policy here. Read more about House Farm Bill Out of Touch with Rural Americans

  • Farm PolicyFarm Bill
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Farm to School Program Finds Success in Nebraska

Despite its newness, efforts to increase awareness of Nebraska’s Farm to School Program are paying off. Last spring, the first Farm to School Summit at the University of Nebraska, Kearney (UNK), served as a networking opportunity for like-minded people in central Nebraska.

On its heels, UNK picked the Farm to School Program as a client in an Advertising Management class. Two groups of students created advertising campaigns for the program. Check out their wonderful ideas in our new facebook page, and add your “like” when you visit facebook.com/NebraskaFarmToSchoolProgram.

In May, an enthusiastic group of middle school students spoke at the annual National Farm to School Conference in Omaha. These seventh and eighth grade girls from Logan Fontenelle Middle School in Bellevue decided they wanted to see a change in their school meals. Working with us, they now have a handful of farmers in their area who are interested in helping them achieve their goal of eating fresh, local food at school.

The summer months have been busy with farmers markets, a great place to talk to farmers about getting involved with Farm to School. A presentation at the Minden Rotary Club helped extend the excitement. And I was absolutely amazed by a visit to the Children’s Garden in Lexington, NE. Summer school kids go to the garden each week to learn about and taste all the different types of crops. Their accomplishments were terrific.

Interest and involvement with Farm to School has increased rapidly. Thanks to the Center for Rural Affairs and our partners, the program is making a name for itself. We expect that to continue!

Contact me, Bailey, for more information or to get involved, baileym@ cfra.org or 308.325.3839. Read more about Farm to School Program Finds Success in Nebraska

  • Small TownsCommunity Food
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New Developments for Transmission Project

An important energy transmission project in Iowa will be the subject of several public meetings. The Sheldon-Webster transmission project is a 215 mile transmission line, with 145 miles located in Iowa (running through Kossuth, Winnebago, and Worth counties). This project will help increase energy capacity and reliability of the grid throughout the Midwest. A notable opportunity that the project provides is to link renewable energy projects to larger markets.

The next step for ITC Midwest -- developer of the Sheldon-Webster project -- will be to apply for a franchise from the Iowa Utilities Board in order to build the line. In Iowa, developers must hold informational meetings for communities and landowners that are in the study corridor for the project to receive approval from state regulators. 

ITC Midwest will be holding such meetings which are great opportunities for community members and landowners to receive information about the project, and provide feedback to the developer and state regulators concerning the line.

Meetings will be held August 1 at the Kensett Community Center at 300 Willow Street in Kensett at 9 a.m., IA; at the Branding Iron at 135 Jackson Street in Thompson at 2 p.m, IA; and August 2 at the Eagle Center at 401 Smith Street in Lakota, IA at 9 a.m.

Representatives of the Iowa Utility Board will be present to inform landowners of their rights in the siting process, and representatives of ITC Midwest will also be present to answer questions about the project from the community and landowners. Read more about New Developments for Transmission Project

  • Clean Energy
Weekly column

Higher Yields (and more) with Cover Crops

Farmers across the country reported higher yields from use of cover crops, especially in drought zones, in 2012. Over 700 farmers responding to a survey reported yield increases for corn and beans following cover crops.

The Conservation Technology Information Center carried out a survey of experienced cover crop farmers last winter. Responding farmers had over 200,000 acres under cover crops, about 10% of the national cover crop acreage.

Farmers reported that dormant-season cover crops led to increased yields of 9.6% for corn and 11.6% for soybeans over fields without cover crops. In severe drought regions, yield differences were even higher: 11.0% for corn and 14.3% for beans. Farmers spent, on average, $40/acre establishing their cover crops.

“The yield improvements provided from cover crops in 2012 were likely a combination of factors,” stated Dr. Rob Myers, a University of Missouri agronomist, “such as better rooting of the cash crop along with the residue blanket provided by the cover crop reducing soil moisture loss. Also, where cover crops have been used for several years, we know that organic matter typically increases, which improves rainfall infiltration and soil water holding capacity.”

Cover crops in a crop rotation can provide a range of benefits to soils, crops, and water quality. They can control erosion, smother weeds, reduce soil moisture loss, and add nitrogen and organic matter to the soil. Nearly all survey respondents identified “soil health” as a key benefit of using cover crops.

Another benefit, cover crops can also slow climate change or reduce its impacts on crops. Cover crops increase capture of carbon from the air when they are used during the cash-crop dormant season. They add more carbon to the soil, where it can be stored, than cash crops alone. Mixtures of legumes and grains as cover crops can reduce synthetic fertilizer used for cash crops, cutting emissions of potent greenhouse gases.

Acreage of cover crops has increased nearly 40% per year since 2009, and knowledge of how to manage them has grown. USDA’s handbook Managing Cover Crops Profitably is a good guide to crops, seed sources, planting techniques, and more. Both the handbook and the full survey report are available free online from USDA SARE. Read more about Higher Yields (and more) with Cover Crops

  • Farm PolicyFarm and Food
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Health Care Questions & Answers

This October, your state will unroll its new health insurance marketplace, or “exchange.” This new marketplace is where, if your employer doesn’t provide adequate health insurance, you’ll be able to shop for more affordable private insurance.

Why should you buy insurance from the marketplace? Private insurance plans sold in the marketplace will be easy to compare. They’ll all be written in simple language, and you’ll be able to see which one is best for you. It  is also the only place to get federal subsidies to help make private insurance affordable.

How can you say the marketplace will be affordable? If you are below 400 percent of poverty ($94,000 for a family of 4), the maximum you will pay for your health insurance is 9.5 percent of your income. The rest will be paid by a federal subsidy.

What if I have a “preexisting condition”? In the marketplace, insurance companies will take everyone. No rejections, no health questions, no checking your medical records. You’ll get charged the same as everyone else with a similar age, location, and family size. And the same federal subsidies will apply, to help keep it affordable.

Can I keep the insurance I have now? Yes, you’re free to purchase any private insurance you choose or stick with insurance your employer provides. But it will have to meet some minimum standards of coverage.

Send me questions of your own and I’ll do my best to answer them for you (stephl@cfra.org).

  Read more about Health Care Questions & Answers

  • Rural Health
Weekly column

New Developments for Transmission Project in Minnesota

An important energy transmission project in Minnesota will be the subject of several public meetings. The Sheldon-Webster transmission project is a 215 mile transmission line, with 70 miles of the line in Minnesota and 145 miles located in Iowa, and will run through Martin, Jackson, and Faribault counties. This project will help increase energy capacity and reliability of the grid throughout the Midwest. A notable opportunity that the project provides is to link renewable energy projects to larger markets.

The important next step for ITC Midwest--the developer of the Sheldon-Webster project--will be to apply for a certificate of need from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in order to build the line. In Minnesota, developers must hold informational meetings for communities and landowners that are in the study corridor for the project to receive approval from state regulators. 

ITC Midwest held some of these meetings recently which are a great opportunity for community members and landowners to not only receive information about the project, but provide feedback to the developer and state regulators concerning the line. 

In case anyone missed the meetings or has additional feedback to provide, it is possible to submit a public comment by visiting the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s site: http://mn.gov/commerce/energyfacilities/#comment.  The comment period will run until 4:30 p.m. on August 2nd. Topics open for comment include the possible human or environmental impacts that should be studied, methods that can be used to address these impacts, alternate routes, and alternatives to the proposed project. Read more about New Developments for Transmission Project in Minnesota

  • Clean Energy
Weekly column

New Developments for South Dakota Transmission Project

An important energy transmission project in South Dakota is moving on to the next step in its development, and the public will receive an opportunity to comment on the project. The Big Stone South to Brookings county transmission project is comprised of a 70 mile line that is slated to run from Brookings county to the Big Stone South substation near Big Stone City. 

The line is part of CapX2020, a shared project between 11 utilities and developers to increase energy capacity and reliability of the grid in their service areas. A notable opportunity that the CapX2020 project provides is to link renewable energy projects to larger markets.

The Big Stone South to Brookings transmission project is a mix of a new route and a route that was sited for a previous project. Xcel Energy and Otter Tail Power--the developers of the project--filed for a new certificate for the previous portion in December of 2012. On June 6, they filed for a certificate for the remaining portion of the route, about 40 miles between Gary, SD and Brookings county. 

The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission will hold a public meeting on July 31 at McCrory Gardens Education & Visitor Center in Brookings at 6:30 p.m. There they will gather feedback and address the concerns of landowners relating to the project. This is a great opportunity for community members to not only learn more about the project, but weigh in on the line and voice their opinions. Read more about New Developments for South Dakota Transmission Project

  • Clean Energy
Weekly column

What Is the Impact of Delay in the Affordable Care Act Employer Mandate?

On July 2, 2013, a one-year delay was announced  in the penalties and reporting requirements for large businesses (50 or more employees) for providing health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Concerns and criticisms of this decision beg the question – what is the impact of delaying the health insurance shared responsibility for large businesses? The simple answer in our opinion: Not much.

The Affordable Care Act creates a shared responsibility among individuals, employers, and government to offer health insurance coverage. The goals are to reduce the number of Americans without health insurance and to enhance access to health insurance.

To accomplish these goals, the law sets up a system of shared responsibility for employers. It breaks them into tiers, with these stipulations:

  • Employers with 50 or fewer employees (FTEs) – No requirement to offer health insurance.
  • Employers with more than 50 employees (FTEs) – Required to offer health insurance.
  • Employers with more than 200 employees (FTEs) – Required to automatically enroll employees into health plans offered by the employer, with an employee opt-out provision.

During the law’s debate, many commentators, including us, believed the employer mandate for employers with more than 50 employees was an ineffective policy provision. We thought employers at the margins would begin to make employees part-time or shed jobs, all with the goal to avoid the mandate. Prior to the Obama administration announcement on July 2, this was starting to happen, particularly in low-wage service businesses and some public-sector employment.

In addition, the employer requirements apply to very few businesses. No business with fewer than 50 employees is required to offer or provide health insurance to employees. Federal data indicate that represents 96 to 98 percent of all businesses in the nation. And it includes the vast number of businesses in rural areas. The House of Representatives’ Small Business Committee estimates that, when considering this exemption and the number of businesses already providing health insurance to employees, the employer mandate will apply to less than two percent of businesses.

The bottom line is that roughly 10,000 out of 5.7 million businesses in the nation (0.01 percent) would be subject to a penalty that is now being delayed. And as to the Affordable Care Act goal of increased health insurance coverage, the Urban Institute estimates the delay will decrease non-elderly health insurance coverage by 0.1 percent.

So, in our view, this was a major Affordable Care Act announcement without much practical consequence for the long-term goals of the law.

You’ll find more information to help you understand the ACA here. Read more about What Is the Impact of Delay in the Affordable Care Act Employer Mandate?

  • Rural Health
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REAP Newsletter Summer 2013

How Can I Survive and Thrive in the Growing World Economy?
It's the summer of 2013, and by now we’ve all heard about the advantages or the disadvantages of the growing “World” economy. Most of you are lifelong Nebraskans, have a GREAT work ethic, and an unbelievable sense of resourcefulness. Yet by people on either coast’s opinion, you live in the middle of nowhere in landlocked Nebraska. I’m sure you’re wondering ... what’s so great about a world economy? What can I do from here? Read more about REAP Newsletter Summer 2013

New Collaborative Serves Distressed Business Areas of Nebraska

The Nebraska Small Business Collaborative (NSBC) is a dynamic collaboration of experienced micro-enterprise development service providers. The Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP), Community Development Resources (CDR), and Catholic Charities-Microbusiness Training & Development Program (CC-MT) offer a full complement of services for micro businesses (small businesses with 10 or fewer employees). The collaboration is informally known as the “Nebraska Small Business Collaborative” (NSBC). 

Programs and services include one-on-one technical assistance, various small business training, loan packaging, and micro loan access up to $50,000. Linking to other resource providers and lending sources, including commercial lending sources, are included too. These programs and services are available statewide in the distressed areas of Nebraska. 

Massive Need for Micro Business Services across Nebraska 
The Nebraska Small Business Collaborative worked with a massive number of startup and existing entrepreneurs throughout Nebraska in 2012. The results truly show the need for microenterprise services is at an all-time high. 

In the past year (Jan 1, 2012 to Dec 31, 2012), the Nebraska Small Business Collaborative provided technical assistance or training services to 2,709 entrepreneurs. Over 85 percent of the entrepreneurs served were below low- to moderate-income, with women comprising over 55 percent.

During this time, the Nebraska Small Business Collaborative placed 129 loans totaling $1,746,255 and leveraged an additional $1,882,100 from other sources due to “loan packaging” assistance. As many as 85 percent of all loan recipients were below low- to moderate-income, 50 percent were women, and 30 percent were Hispanic. The collaborative’s lending and assistance helped to create or retain 807 jobs.

Business and Innovation Act Key to Economic Expansion in Areas Most in Need
Partial funding for the work of the Nebraska Small Business Collaborative comes from the 2011 Business and Innovation Act – Nebraska Microenterprise Assistance Program through the state of Nebraska administered by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. The Business and Innovation Act, part of the Talent and Innovation Initiative, is having a tremendously positive impact in Nebraska. It drives new business creation and expansion in the state. More information about the state’s Talent and Innovation Initiatives can be found at neded.org.

The Nebraska Small Business Collaborative is striving to achieve maximum scale in all distressed areas of Nebraska. NSBC is dedicated to meeting the huge demands that exist both now and in the future.

For more information about the Nebraska Small Business Collaborative or to request services, please contact Center for Rural Affairs at 402.687.2100 or info@cfra.org. An informational sheet about the NSBC, including all contacts, can be viewed here. Read more about New Collaborative Serves Distressed Business Areas of Nebraska

  • Small Business
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