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iHub Groundbreaking Celebrated in Downtown Norfolk

iHub Groundbreaking Celebrated in Downtown Norfolk

NORFOLK, Neb. -- Northeast Community College renewed and expanded partnerships as it celebrated the groundbreaking for its iHub technology and innovation center in downtown Norfolk.

About 120 people attended the sunny, but chilly event at 707 and 713 W. Norfolk Ave., which took place on the morning of Thursday, April 4

“I am so proud to be standing here with our community partners,” said Leah Barrett, Northeast president. “This is a community effort.” 

The new iHub, which has been called a “game changer,” is expected to benefit manufacturing, agricultural and technical industries, as well as keep more young people employed in Northeast Nebraska. It is a part of the Growing Together initiative that is expanding opportunities for young people to develop skills in technology and other fields. 

Barrett said the Northeast iHub, which is projected to open in late summer 2025 west of the Norfolk Area Chamber of Commerce, will benefit innovators, entrepreneurs, and builders. 

The iHub will focus on several areas, including robotics education. It will be a place where students of all ages can come together and participate in competitive robotics clubs. Its automation lab will be available for manufacturers and employers who want to utilize the facility for workforce training in robotics and industrial automation. And lastly, it will be available for the whole community to inspire creativity, innovation, and collaboration. 

“It is about an opportunity for our workforce development partners in our industries to do training and upscaling of employees. And it is what is called a Makerspace. A Makerspace is a collection of equipment that people can use to finish a project, to problem solve or to create a project,” Barrett said. 

The iHub will be an innovation hub or an idea hub -- a place full of windows and light where children and all ages can figure out how to solve problems, create jobs or manufacture products, Barrett said. 

U.S. Rep. Mike Flood of Norfolk said he was excited to be back home for the iHub groundbreaking. Flood said he has driven by the buildings repeatedly and looks forward to the grand opening. 

As the United State switches to a knowledge economy, it is important for the nation to become the country that makes things again. 

“We need those kids in Randolph and Neligh and Wayne and Norfolk to come here and create and imagine and to build wealth by walking down the street and getting the venture capital from Invest Nebraska to start their business right here,” Flood said. 

Flood helped to secure a recent $750,000 appropriation for equipment for the iHub. 

He said Northeast should be commended for its leadership role in Northeast Nebraska, including a large investment in the Acklie College Farm, the recent launch of a new diesel mechanic apprenticeship program, and an expansion in South Sioux City for welding booths and commercial driver's license (CDL) truck driving -- currently under construction. 

“We should be very proud,” Flood said. “We have one of the most innovative community college systems in the United States. They are working to find solutions to the workforce challenges we have.” 

Norfolk Mayor Josh Moenning has provided critical leadership to the transformation of downtown Norfolk in recent years. 

Norfolk must work twice as hard as other similar-sized communities in the state, Moenning said. It does not have an interstate and is not close to the metro areas. But Norfolk has an advantage in that it creates an “entrepreneurial spirit that I wouldn’t trade for anything,” Moenning said. 

This iHub project is “the definition of innovation,” the mayor said. 

Dan Hoffman, CEO of Invest Nebraska, said his organization wants to invest in entrepreneurial and innovation opportunities in agriculture technology to advance business opportunities in the region.  He and his team provided the leadership that secured the initial funding for this project.  

Hoffman says the iHub can enable young people from Northeast Nebraska to “dream big.”  

Jake Luhr, superintendent of Battle Creek Public Schools, represented the area school districts and what the iHub will mean to them.  

Luhr said the partnerships that the public schools have with Northeast are outstanding. 

“We have more adult credit offerings for our high school kids than ever before,” Luhr said. “Through this collaboration and partnership, we have developed Fridays at Northeast. And now eventually, they will get to take advantage of an iHub.” 

Rob Haake of Norfolk, who is a coach of some robotics teams, spoke of the opportunities it will bring to young students. 

Haake, whose family owns Weiland Doors, said he also is excited as a business owner about the opportunities the iHub will bring. Forty years ago, his father-in-law started the company in a barn. 

If anyone visits his shop or any of the manufacturing shops in Northeast Nebraska, the first thing they will notice is they have “the world’s best people,” Haake said. 

“They are amazing, talented, hard-working people,” he said. “The second thing you will notice is that a lot of those people are using some amazing technology and fancy machinery. This is the future of manufacturing.” 

In addition to funds that Congressman Flood helped secure, resources for this project are coming from a U.S. Economic Development Administration grant and from College’s American Rescue Plan Act allocation from the State of Nebraska. Barrett said while most of the $7.5 million funds for the iHub have been secured, about $2 million still must be raised from private support. 

“We’re going to be looking for your help over the next year or so,” she said.   

Construction will begin this month, with the opening projected for August 2025. Thursday’s event was billed as groundbreaking, but the buildings are being converted from businesses into high-tech areas, woods and metals shops, and other specialty areas that include 3-D printers, laser cutters and more. 

Several Northeast officials attended as well, including board members Donovan Ellis of Pierce, Julie Robinson of Norfolk, and Nicole Sedlacek of O’Neill. Foundation members Brian Chapman of Norfolk, Courtney Schmidt of Madison and Melissa Figueroa of Norfolk also attended. 

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IHub groundbreaking cutline 

U.S. Rep. Mike Flood of Norfolk discusses the need for the iHub as the nation competes internationally to become higher tech for manufacturing jobs. Flood spoke during a groundbreaking in downtown Norfolk. (Northeast Community College)