In his 7 1/2 years with the Hastings Economic Development Corp., Dave Rippe has had a hand in everything from AGP opening a $100 million expansion and Thermo King bringing 100 new jobs, to helping new businesses like First Street Brewing and Pacha Soap get their start.
That breadth of projects is what has been the most fun about his job.
“They’re all equally rewarding,” he said. “How we’ve been able to assist those folks — I take a lot of pride and satisfaction in that.”
Rippe, 35, has worked at HEDC since April 2010. He became executive director not long after that, following the retirement of former Executive Director Dee Haussler.
On Tuesday, Rippe was named as the next director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.
“I think my time in Hastings has been a great privilege,” he said in an interview Thursday. “We’re very thankful for the opportunities we’ve been given in Hastings, and we’re very proud of the opportunities we’ve worked with others to create. It’s been a really humbling experience to work with the businesses and the people in Hastings. Hastings is full of hardworking, talented and innovative people. So it’s been a lot of fun.”
George Anderson, president of the HEDC board of directors, remembers how impressed he was with Rippe the first time they met, back when Anderson was the chairman of the Hastings Board of Public Works.
“Working with Dave from day one was always encouraging,” Anderson said. “He got his hands into things and made stuff work; great listener, understands people and really cared.”
Rippe said the statewide perception of the community’s growth and business development is incredibly positive.
“No matter where you’re at, the grass is always greener on the other side,” he said. “I think when you are living somewhere it’s hard to appreciate the change that is happening around you.”
He said it’s often overlooked locally that Hastings frequently has visitors from around the state to look at various aspects of development in Hastings.
“From a quality standpoint, I think a person would be hard pressed to rank many communities above Hastings,” he said.
A lot of people love what Hastings has to offer, he said.
“I think Hastings’ quality growth is probably what’s most noticeable and what is most important to those here,” he said. “It’s the reinvestment in the community’s infrastructure. It’s the reinvestment into the quality of life in the community through the parks and the library and the trail system and other things the community has elected to support through sales tax. It’s the reinvestment into the core of our community, in our downtown.”
Rippe lives in Hastings with his wife, Kristi, and daughter, Julia.
“The bottom line is Hastings is our home,” he said. “We moved to Hastings because it was an interesting opportunity. It was a convenient place for us on a map, geographically. We’ve stayed in Hastings because we love Hastings. We’ve invested in this community, downtown and elsewhere with companies because we love this community.”
The community has terrific schools and a terrific quality of life.
While Rippe serves the state from Lincoln, he and his family plan to continue living in Hastings.
“Hastings is home, and we love it here,” he said. “Our daughter is in kindergarten at Longfellow, and we have no intention to pull her out of school.
“My wife and I believe in Hastings, our business partners believe in Hastings, and we intend to stay active in those pursuits.”
During Rippe’s tenure, the way HEDC has pursued economic development has changed. Where industrial recruitment and growth was a priority for decades, he said, how companies made decisions flipped during the recession. Now, the focus is on trying to keep existing companies competitive by attracting and retaining talent as well as fostering entrepreneurship.
HEDC has done that through its Talent Initiative, which was designed to retain, attract, and develop talented people and carry out HEDC's mission "to provide direction in making Hastings a community of choice for talented people and quality businesses."
Through that initiative and the development of programs like Inspired by Hastings and groups like Hastings Young Professionals, hardly a day goes by in Hastings without activities available to a wide demographic.
The Talent Initiative is led by HEDC’s only other employee, director of talent solutions Maggie Vaughan.
“I think about all the things Dave got started and working with Maggie Vaughan and getting all of these additional things going on for young people in Hastings — that’s been probably the most exciting thing for me, is his involvement and the young people that are involved in all these things in Hastings and where the future is going,” Anderson said. “Dave was a great starting point and catalyst that helped many of these things get going.”
Craig Kautz, who is superintendent of Hastings Public Schools, said Rippe has been an asset on a number of HPS projects. For example, he served on the superintendent’s advisory council, which looked at the elementary bond issue.
Rippe also was an adviser on the district’s manufacturing pathways advisory team.
“David was key in getting the $125,000 economic development grant from the Governor’s Office to improve our middle school’s skilled and technical science program,” Kautz said.
Hastings was awarded in 2015 a $125,000 Developing Youth Talent Initiative Grant from the state of Nebraska to develop career pathways programming at the middle-school level.
Kautz, who also chairs the Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors, said it’s tough to lose someone like Rippe.
“I wish him nothing but success and believe he’ll be successful on the state level in the area of economic development,” he said. “Our misfortune is the state’s gain.”
While Hastings has seen a lot of wins during Rippe’s time at HEDC, it also has seen losses — maybe the most public of which was the decision of developers and investors to pull out of the proposed $25 million City Block Project slated for the city parking lot in downtown. The project would have brought apartments, hotel rooms, health care space retail and office space and a publicly owned conference center adjacent to the existing Hastings City Auditorium.
The project was divisive.
It drew criticism from some in the community because of its location on a city parking lot as well as the use of about $5 million from the city’s cash reserve fund — which was planned to be replenished by a 1.5 percent local restaurant tax.
It also drew praise from supporters who saw the proposed aspects of the project and outside investment of $18 million to $20 million as a way to continue building on existing development in downtown.
“The City Block Project was a terrific personal and professional learning opportunity,” Rippe said. “When that project closed out we were able to learn a number of lessons on how to build a more successful project in this community. We put those lessons to work in the North Park Commons project, and those are going to show very clearly this spring when infrastructure starts going into the ground and buildings start going up in the air.”
North Park Commons is HEDC’s planned 93-acre mixed use property development project estimated to be worth more than $40 million once completed.
The project is slated to include commercial and retail development, hospitality, multi-family housing, single family homes and senior and/or student housing. Its location is just east of existing businesses along Osborne Drive East between 26th and 33rd streets, and north of the building that contains Dunham’s Sports and Tractor Supply.
As Rippe prepares to leave HEDC and lead the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, he credits his predecessor for creating an atmosphere that enabled his success.
“I really can’t give enough credit to Dee Haussler and the board of directors of this corporation,” he said. “I was given a tremendous opportunity to come out here and learn. I have been given great resources and autonomy with which to work. The community has been incredibly supportive of our undertakings in changing that thinking behind economic development.”