The Hastings Economic Development Corp. has seen a lot of interest in its real estate holdings.

Bob Wilson, who handles real estate for HEDC gave updates on those holdings during the HEDC annual meeting, Thursday at The Lark. That includes the 93-acre North Park Commons — just east of existing businesses along Osborne Drive East between 26th and 33rd streets, and north of the building that houses Dunham’s Sports and Tractor Supply.

HEDC purchased the ground for $930,000 on March 28, 2017.

“It was a little bit speculative but not really,” Wilson told the crowd. “Dave (Rippe) put together a good plan and as the project has developed and progressed, it looks like we have very solid financials.”

The city received what Wilson characterized as “favorable” bids earlier on Thursday for street, sewer and water projects within the first phase of North Park Commons. The Hastings City Council will consider those contracts at a future meeting.

He said work should begin on those projects next month.

Wilson said there are six commercial lots in that first phase, including a Hampton Inn, the developer of which is in the process of acquiring partners that compliment the business.

There are also two “entertainment lots” in entertainment venues that not only complement the hotel but also the rest of the development.

“We don’t have anything solid yet, but we’re working with a couple of companies that can bring entertainment venues to those two lots,” he said.

Other phases for the project include up to 150 apartment units, 77 single-family residential lots and duplexes. Wilson said ground should be broken on the duplex phases later this year or early next year.

Interest has also been strong in HEDC’s 97,500 square-foot speculative building.

“The spec building itself, we continue to get a lot of inquiries about,” Wilson said. “We continue to look at different deals every day on that. Nothing solid yet but it looks promising, so we’ll see what happens in the next few months.”

Wilson took over management of HEDC’s real estate holdings after former HEDC executive director Dave Rippe was appointed last year by Gov. Ricketts to be the director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.

Rippe, who still lives in Hastings, spoke at the annual meeting.

“I love Hastings, Hastings is our home,” he said. “In Lincoln there’s a pile of paperwork and there’s a backlog of emails and there’s a line of people and none of them clap for me.”

Hastings and HEDC has also benefited from the strong support it receives from local businesses, Rippe said.

“Please realize how fortunate you are right here to have the folks you have on your board of directors and the talent you have working for your board of directors,” he said.

In his capacity so far as state economic development director, Rippe has witnessed creativity in towns and cities throughout Nebraska when it comes to economic development.

He said he has found leadership is the most important component when it comes to fostering a competitive environment.

“It’s people who are going to run for public office,” he said. “It’s young energetic people, like if you look at our mayor and council here who want to make a difference in their communities.”

Rippe also mentioned several incentive programs available on the state level that have led to successes in smaller communities.

“For every $1 of public funds our state puts into those programs, we’re seeing $7 of private capital invested into those companies and we’re seeing $7 of annual revenue (for every dollar invested) for those companies,” he said.

Also speaking on Thursday was HEDC interim director Maggie Vaughan, who started working for HEDC as director of talent solutions in 2016, after graduating from Hastings College.

“Holy buckets Maggie Vaughan is growing up,” Rippe said.

Vaughan spoke about successes Hastings saw in 2017.

“It has been a really good year for HEDC,” she said.

HEDC connected with more than 300 middle and high schoolers at various events including career day and mentoring activities.

Eighteen local students participated in the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in June in Louisville, Kentucky.

Numerous business ideas came out of pitch contests last year on the Hastings College campus and at Big Idea Hastings.

Some of those ideas continue to be incubated through Brews and Brainstorming, where entrepreneurs discuss business proposals with one another over beers at the Art Bar, First Street Brewing and Steeple Brewing.

“Ultimately, we want these entrepreneurs to translate into jobs,” Vaughan said. “As many of you know, Hastings is capable of supporting entrepreneurs as they grow.”

Pacha Soap reached 42 jobs in 2017, just a few years after being founded.

One company new to Hastings is Allo Communications, which purchased the fiber network and business customer contracts of Glenwood Telecommunications operations in Hastings.

Allo President Brad Moline spoke at the meeting.

He said Allo “overbuilds” towns with fiber, providing a connectivity that is as good as anywhere in the world.

“We’ll employ a large number of employees here,” he said. “This summer you’ll see about 75 people whether it’s contractors or us as we open up the market but long term it’ll be about 15 to 20 who will be permanent residents here.”

He did provide the warning that installation of that fiber will be a little disruptive.

“If we ever do anything you don’t like, or if we do anything you like make sure you contact us,” he said. “We work with the communities, we work with economic development. We want to bring businesses here because we’re going to be here for the next 30, 40, 50 years just like you.”

Outgoing HEDC board president George Anderson and incoming president Pat Mertens both spoke highly of Vaughan and Rippe.

“Maggie Vaughan has just been awesome, coming on as interim director and helping us do the things we need to do,” Anderson said.

“Everything you saw tonight from Maggie and the north project with Bob, that’s all a result of Dave thinking outside the box, innovating and being creative,” Mertens said.