Midlands Voices: Sports is one of Omaha area’s tools to promote diversity and fellowship

When I became a professional sports owner in Omaha, I vowed to embed myself in the community to truly understand the fabric, culture and people of this amazing metro. I began to do that when I purchased the Omaha Storm Chasers in 2012. When I brought the professional soccer team, Union Omaha, to the metro in 2019, I discovered a whole new aspect of the city, and I’ve had the opportunity to spend more time with younger populations and diverse demographics. I consider Omaha my adopted city; it feels like home. One consistent theme I have heard is that Omaha is not diverse enough and it was losing residents who hold bachelor’s degrees to other cities. But I never knew why.

On May 7, I attended the second annual Aksarben Stakeholders Meeting, hosted by the Aksarben Foundation, convening leaders to address workforce development. What I heard that day was that “brain drain” is a real threat to our city’s efforts to build for the future. In 2019, 2,565 Nebraskans with bachelor’s degrees relocated to other states. Why are cities like Denver, Austin and Chicago luring away young Nebraskans? The answer: culture and quality of life for young professionals. Among other things, young professionals value a diverse workplace.

It was also reinforced to me that while Omaha has an extremely diverse population, the lack of inclusivity of all races is widely talked about but not necessarily acted upon. We must do more to create opportunities and events that include all of Omaha, not just specific demographics. In 2016, the Chamber of Commerce created CODE (Commitment to Opportunity, Diversity and Equity) which is focused on creating positive, measurable outcomes leading to increased opportunities and equity for underrepresented populations. This is a great step forward.

The last year has been a time to reflect, and if we want Omaha to be the metro we know it can be, we must change how we build the community around us. Let’s encourage businesses to hire a diverse workforce to retain young talent. Let’s seek out opportunities to include and welcome all groups. Let’s ask questions to understand other perspectives.

As owner of Union Omaha and Omaha Storm Chasers, my goal is to have our clubs be the lightning rod for change. I want Werner Park to be the universal meeting place for people of all races, ethnicities and ages to come together. I want people to experience our team on the pitch or on the field as the display of diversity that inspires citizens to bring Omaha together. Sports as a whole — and soccer in particular — have long been bridges for communities to connect with each other. We know the power of sports in this city. Let’s show everyone that Omaha can offer entertainment that highlights the city’s potential in this period of change.

While baseball has a five-decade history, soccer is the new connector in town. We welcome all and embrace the opportunities before us. Our motto at Union Omaha is “One Means All!” It’s time to make that the rally cry for the entire city and hold each other accountable for taking action.