March 21, 2022

Anthony Goins

Tony Goins:

“The citizens of our state are, are really important. Your lives are important. Your lives matter. Economic inclusion matters.”  

Announcer:

Welcome to Agency for Change, a podcast from KidGlov that brings you the stories of changemakers who are actively working to improve our communities. In every episode, we’ll meet with people who are making a lasting impact in the places we call home.

Lyn Wineman:

Today on the podcast, we are diving deep into what makes Nebraska such a great place to do business by going right to the source, and that means we’ll be speaking with someone who has a finger on the pulse of the economy in his role at the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. What’s more, he co-owns a business in himself, Capital Cigar Lounge, right here in Lincoln, and he’s a published author, a veteran, and a successful leader with a seat on a number of boards at prominent companies across the state.

Lyn Wineman:

Hi, everyone. This is Lyn Wineman, and welcome to another episode of Agency for Change. We’re talking today, of course, with Tony Goins, Nebraska’s director of economic development, who is focused on growing the state by pursuing economic opportunities, promoting strong communities and working to make our state the very best place to live, work, do business and raise a family. Tony, welcome to the podcast.

Tony Goins:

Lyn. It is an honor to be here and it’s always a joy to have a chance to spend some time with you.

Lyn Wineman:

Thank you.

Tony Goins:

I’m a KidGlov fan.

Lyn Wineman:

Ah, thank you.

Tony Goins:

So honored to have this chance to spend time with you and share the story of Nebraska’s economic development and the people here with you and KidGlov.

Lyn Wineman:

Oh, fantastic. I really appreciate that, and thank you for being here, Tony. Before we get started, could you give our listeners a high-level summary of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development and how the average Nebraskan might be impacted by this work?

Tony Goins:

Well, let me say here, our vision, what we wake up every day doing, is thinking about how we grow Nebraska and how we create a good life for every one of our 1.94 million citizens, period.

Lyn Wineman:

Yeah. That’s a great way to wake up in the morning. A lot of coffee and thinking about the Nebraska citizens.

Tony Goins:

Thinking about the 1.94 million citizens, how do we create a good life, because the good life here is calling, and every citizen deserves a good life, but we also have to think about growth because growth is the … if you think about a company, liquidity, revenue, that’s the lifeblood of a firm. Growth is the lifeblood. So we always have to think about growth. So we wake up every day thinking about growth and the quality of life of our citizens.

Lyn Wineman:

Yeah. Well, thank you for that. I appreciate it very much being a Nebraska citizen myself. So, hey, for the next few questions, Tony, I’d like to talk a little bit about you. You’ve had a long and successful career with a number of companies, large and small, but before any of those roles, I understand you were in the United States Marines for four years. How did that experience impact the leader you are today?

Tony Goins:

Lyn, that’s a really great question, because being a Marine is still the foundation of who I am. I mean, you don’t wear that uniform and serve your country in that capacity without being impacted for life. So there’s a sense of esprit de corps, a sense of loyalty, a sense of understanding, still living by semper fidelis, always faithful to God, corps and the country. There’s an operational and an organizational cadence that Marines live by, a tempo. The mission is always paramount. There are really no excuses and leadership is at top of agenda. So that was the impact that the United States Marine Corps had on me and those are attributes that I’ve carried throughout my entire career.

Lyn Wineman:

I should just pause a moment and say thank you for your service. I’m always in awe of those who are willing to do that very important work for our country. So thank you for that. It is interesting, you do see a lot of people that are very successful come out of the Marines and the military as well, so I could see where it would lay a great foundation. So continuing in that vein, can you elaborate on what brought you to Nebraska? Because a lot of Nebraskans start here and love it. Not that many come here, but I also know that’s a big part of your work.

Tony Goins:

It’s a large driver of what I do, getting people to move to our state and getting people to stay here and not go elsewhere. But my journey to the state of Nebraska was really driven by a search firm. There was a search firm that reached out to me as a result of Cabela’s, the world’s foremost bank, had an opening for the chief operating officer and then Cabela’s retail store. So a search firm reached out to me and asked, “Was I interested?” I mean, my skillsets really matched the position and what they were looking for. My initial reaction, I’m really not interested. I didn’t know a lot about Nebraska. Mind you, I had lived in 10 states and about 12 cities, but didn’t know a lot about Nebraska. I didn’t really have an interest. So I remember the recruiter said, “Listen, just take the visit. Never hurts to go talk to people in and see what you can find out. If you don’t take the job, then no harm, no foul.”

Tony Goins:

So sure enough, I did, and Lyn, what I can tell you is I was here for three days and I met some of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life. It was just an amazing experience. I went through the interview process. I called my wife, Kim, my fiancé at the time. She’s my wife now, of course, and said that I think Nebraska’s going to be our new home. We called our pastor and prayed about it and we made the move. So that’s what brought us here. I was a member of the Cabela’s executive team leading the world’s foremost bank, leading the operation, and it was a good run. Of course, we had to end up selling the company. We sold Cabela’s to Bass Pro and we sold the bank to Capital One, and I left that firm in May of 2018, started a consulting firm, but long after, Governor Ricketts called and I did a small stint helping out with my good friend Mark LeBaron at Lincoln Industries.

Lyn Wineman:

Oh Yeah. Great company.

Tony Goins:

Great company, great company. Then not long after, Governor Ricketts called and asked if I would join his cabinet.

Lyn Wineman:

That’s fantastic. Well, I think we are very lucky that recruiter called you. We are very lucky that your lovely wife agreed to come with you, especially if she wasn’t your wife at that point, even, and very lucky that you stayed. All right. So Tony, that leads right into my next question. In October of 2019, actually right before the pandemic, you started your new position as the director of economic development for the state of Nebraska. What was that experience like beginning a whole new role, and then jumping right into such a tumultuous time for Nebraska and the economy?

Tony Goins:

Let me start by saying originally, when Governor Ricketts called and asked me to assume the position, I was somewhat reluctant because I don’t have a traditional economic development background. I’m a banker by trade and I shared that with him, and his response was, “I’m not looking for traditional economic developer. I’m looking for a person that is a business guy, and I want you to be the chief salesperson for the State of Nebraska.” I said, “Well, I think I can do that.” So I assumed the position, October 7, 2019, then I had to be confirmed by the legislature, so I had to testify in front of one of the legislative committees and then they took a vote on the floor. So my confirmation didn’t happen until December. So I think for me, the great thing about it is, Lyn, Dave Rippe, my predecessor who is now running for lieutenant governor along with Brett Lindstrom, he really left us a solid foundation here.

Tony Goins:

I mean, it was a great team. I mean, really great people, great operation, a great team. So for me, it was about coming in and really listening, learning some of the language, being coachable, but also putting what I had done in my corporate world, putting that lens on and kind of blending it in order to create what you see now. COVID really hit. When I got here, I had my first trade mission to Germany and that was in November of 2019. That was a governor led trade mission. Then in late February of 2020, I, along with the lieutenant governor and a few teammates, went out on a pray mission to Asia, i.e South Korea and Japan.

Lyn Wineman:

Okay.

Tony Goins:

It was during that time period, COVID was starting to rear its ugly head. I can remember we were in South Korea and then we went into Tokyo and everyone, they were wearing masks. It was a ton of conversation about COVID-19. Every day we would look at the news and you could see it was escalating. Then there was a ship off the coast of Yokohama, Japan that couldn’t come ashore and there were people with COVID-19 on the ship. We knew it was serious then. We said it’s time to get back to Nebraska. Little did we know once we got back here, in less than three weeks the disease would be here.

Lyn Wineman:

Wow. It happened so fast. I remember as well being in conversations in Colorado and people were saying, “Hey, this thing, it might be real,” and I had planned some travel and the travel trip by trip got canceled and planning events, an event by event got canceled. I think I went to lunch on a Thursday with someone who said, “I’m not going to let this affect me,” and on Friday night we were all shut down. The circus was canceled. That was the biggest thing, the circus canceled. Not even that I love the circus, but that was a thing.

Lyn Wineman:

So I remember, Tony, I’ve mentioned this to you before, but I heard you speak during the pandemic and I found that you were such a solid and inspirational leader during a very difficult time for Nebraska businesses. I think you provided a lot of good advice. One thing that always stuck with me that I’ve shared with many people that you said is that the state of Nebraska values both lives and livelihood. But you said lives will always come first and therefore we’re going to take this pandemic seriously. But you also did a lot of great things, I think, for businesses. There was economic relief and funding and lots of different programs. I think even just your leadership and Governor Rickett’s leadership through that as a business owner myself, I found very helpful. So thank you.

Tony Goins:

Thank you. Thank you.

Lyn Wineman:

So Tony, I’m interested. Can you give us a snapshot of what your day today looks like, even if there is a day to day routine in your role with the department of economic development?

Tony Goins:

There’s a variety of responsibilities that happen every day and I will tell you, this is hands down the best job I’ve ever had in my career. I enjoy what I do, but I would say functionally, let me use Monday, for example. There’s more of a cadence on Monday because I get up fairly early, always typically at 4:30 every morning.

Lyn Wineman:

I’m an early riser too. I think the best work gets done before the sun comes up.

Tony Goins:

Before the sun comes up. That’s right. That’s right. There’s some workout. There’s some reading on my Bible and of course I start grabbing news periodicals. I mean, for me, it’s about what’s happening on the global stage from an economic standpoint, what’s happening in the United States? What geo political levers are happening? I mean, it’s just an immersion in what is happening because all of that is going to drive what will happen in what we call our Monday morning meeting. Our Monday morning meeting has a real operational cadence. We start with our vision, our mission, our values, our priorities. So there’s an alignment and it’s my entire executive team. Then we look at our balance scorecard and really look at what are the priorities for the week, what needs to be accomplished, what’s behind schedule? If anything is behind schedule, is it red? Is it green? Is it yellow?

Tony Goins:

Then if the governor has interjected with something that is important, like right now, we’re going through our legislative session and so there are a number of bills that he has as his priority bills. I mean, certain senators that we’re supporting have bills. Sometimes we have to write a letter in support, sometimes we have to physically go across the street to the capital to testify to support the bill. So typically, on Monday, we try to get a sense for what the priorities are for that week, and then we are engaging in looking at companies that may need to be supported from an expansion standpoint, and that’s across the entire state. Housing, there are a number of housing programs. My housing teammates along with NIFA because NIFA’s kind of a part of DED. I chair that board. We’re really thinking about what do we do about housing expansion.

Tony Goins:

Then all of that moves down to entrepreneurs. My teammate, Joe Fox, who leads the business innovation act, that whole program. Lyn, there are a number of different things that happen for me during my day that are looking at the entire community that, again, all center around growth. I mean, growth around housing, growth around entrepreneurship, growth expansion around more. So expansion around businesses that are already here. I mean, what leverage do we pull to help these businesses expand? Here lately, the largest driver has been around talent acquisition.

Lyn Wineman:

Oh, for sure. Every business leader I talk to is looking for workforce, all across. Yeah.

Tony Goins:

Yeah. So that has really been the driving force behind what happens almost every day on my calendar right now, in addition to some of the things that I mentioned.

Lyn Wineman:

Yeah. So what’s your favorite part? What do you just love to do the most?

Tony Goins:

I think what I love to do the most really centers around helping businesses that are already here expand.

Lyn Wineman:

Oh yeah, that sounds great.

Tony Goins:

I enjoy conversing with business leaders about, “Okay, so what do we need to do to help you expand so that your expansion will occur in Nebraska?” Now, we understand that you need some risk mitigation because you need locations in other geographies, but at the end of the day, what we want is for you to feel like you’re valued here enough to expand in our state, create more jobs for our citizens, be extremely profitable and pay them more. We want the businesses to make money, but we want you to pay your teammates more money. Because if we do that and we help fuel the economy, create more tax receipts, then that person can live a better life. They can buy a home, send their kid to college, do some philanthropy, go on vacation.

Lyn Wineman:

Absolutely. I’m going to say I appreciate it. I have three grown children. Two of them have chosen to live and work in Nebraska and we’re working on getting that third one back.

Tony Goins:

Thank you.

Lyn Wineman:

I think it’s going to be here. It’s going to happen here in the future. So I came across an article you did for the Lincoln Journal Star last year where you said you’re actually an introvert, which really surprised me because I see doing a lot of speaking engagements, meeting with a lot of people, out and about. I’m curious, what do you do to turn it on, so to speak, and do you decompress at the end of the day?

Tony Goins:

I am noted as an off the chart introvert.

Lyn Wineman:

Wow.

Tony Goins:

Yes, yes. But to turn it on, listen, I’m really clear on what I’m called to do, what my responsibilities are and that does not allow me to be an introvert. I have to engage with people in a meaningful way so that people know and understand that I care about them, and that’s really important. That’s what I’m called to do. My faith and my exercise routine and my meditation in the morning, which is not a long sense of meditation, I’ve got to say my prayer and read my Bible, and then I got to get at it. That all allows me to walk out of the door with the right level of preparation to engage the way I need to. Now, in terms of winding down, my wife and my family, they all know that when I get home, I’m going to need that hour not to do anything, not to say thing, and they give me that.

Lyn Wineman:

That’s great.

Tony Goins:

Typically, it’s during that hour, I have a cigar room in my home.

Lyn Wineman:

Nice.

Tony Goins:

That hour is spent enjoying a cigar and that allows my mind to wind down. It slows me down. It allows my mind to wind down and I might do some reading, read a book or read a few articles, and that’s how I wind down.

Lyn Wineman:

I love that. My friends and family know not to call me in the evening because I’ve been on the phone or on Zoom all day and I need that quiet time myself.

Tony Goins:

That’s right.

Lyn Wineman:

Tony, I have a book on my coffee table that’s called Something in the Water. Do you know anything about that book?

[Learn more about Something in the Water and order now at https://somethinginthewaterbook.com/]

Tony Goins:

I do. Absolutely, I do. Yes, indeed.

Lyn Wineman:

That is your book and without giving away all the secrets in the book, can you tell me, in your view, what makes Nebraska so special?

Tony Goins:

Lyn, absolutely, I can. It’s the people.

Lyn Wineman:

Yeah.

Tony Goins:

It’s the people and it’s the kindness of the people. What I can really tell you is, and the impetus behind that book and the inspiration behind that book was I’m the son of a schoolteacher and so my mother used to all way say, “Son, just work really hard and be the best student.” So in life for me, it’s about being a good student. When I moved here to Nebraska, I kept meeting these incredible business leaders who had accomplished just really, really great things, but they were still humble.

Lyn Wineman:

Yeah.

Tony Goins:

When you look at places that I’ve lived, the equivalent of the person in the book in another city would be a little more arrogant or more accomplished. “I did this, so look at me.”

Lyn Wineman:

Right.

Tony Goins:

But not these leaders, and I’ve never really seen that dynamic before. It was very interesting. So I remember saying to Jay Wilkinson, I said, “You have to understand that this is really different. This is special.” He said, “No, this is just what we do. This is Nebraska.” I said, “No, Jay, this is special.” I said, “There’s got to be something in the water here.” After saying that for about, I don’t know, maybe 30 or 40 days, Jay called me one day and he said, “Meet me at the Lincoln Country Club.” So when I got to the country club, he pulled out a book cover and it said on the front of the cover, Something in the Water, the story of Lincoln’s founders and builders by Tony Goins. I said, “What is this, Jay? What are we doing here?” He said, “You’re going to capture these stories, Tony, and I’m going to connect you with Phil Redbush who owns Redbrush.”

Lyn Wineman:

I think Redbrush Yeah.

Tony Goins:

Redbrush. Yeah, yeah. He said, “You’re going to do this book,” and I said, “Why me?” He said, “Because you are the first person to come into the community and see that this wasn’t normal. This is just our life. This is what we do. So I think that you are really qualified to do the book because you have looked at us from a different perspective.” So we chose 20 entrepreneurs. We created a set of 20 questions, got a little lapel microphone and sent out an email to the 20 entrepreneurs and they all agreed. Over a three year period, I interviewed them and gave all the information to Phil and he turned it into a book. They gave us photos. 

Lyn Wineman:

It’s a great book. It’s a great book. Tony, this has to be, though, something that’s really difficult in your position and I know you’ve been working on a campaign for Nebraska, but it’s hard to explain that to people. I think those who’ve never experienced the Nebraska nice or the kindness or the accessibility of the leaders, if you’ve never experienced it, maybe you don’t realize how much you would like that, or how impactful that is on somebody’s life. How do you deal with that?

Tony Goins:

Lyn, that’s a great question. All of these are great questions. Let me stop saying that. I mean, part of what we do is … I mean, and that is why this campaign is so important because we’ve got to change the narrative. We’ve got to take control of our story and we must articulate the real value proposition of living, working, and raise a family and enjoying yourself here at our state. That is driven by great opportunities that we have here. So ultimately if you can get people here, if you can get people here … there’s a thing we do. We, we always invite, we always say, “Listen, we’re open for business. We want you to come visit us.” I mean, we are very assertive in the invite process because once we get you here, then we have a chance to show you Nebraska, put you in front of very influential business leaders, show you how accessible we are. I mean, accessibility is a real value proposition here.

Lyn Wineman:

Absolutely.

Tony Goins:

You can get to anybody and people will take your phone call. You can get to Lance Fritz, who’s the chairman and CEO and president of Union Pacific. You can get to Clark Warren. You can really get to people here. In other cities, folks at that level, you can’t get to them. You can get to not just people at that level, but Nebraskans in general are very open to taking your phone call and spending time with you. So once we get the person here or the firm here, then we really show ourselves to be different because of the accessibility. That’s the real trigger that starts the firm or the person to thinking, “Maybe this might be a good opportunity.”

Lyn Wineman:

Yeah. 100%. I’m a native Nebraska, but when I started KidGlov almost 12 years ago, a lot of the leaders that were in your book opened their doors to me and had coffee or lunch and shared their perspective and advice. It just made me that much more successful. Even recently, we had an event at KidGlov because we became a Certified B Corporation, which we’re very excited about, but-

Tony Goins:

I was there.

Lyn Wineman:

I know you were, and you were generous enough to give us your time as well as several other leaders. But I appreciate you coming and saying a few words on our behalf, but also you said some really great things about what makes Nebraska a great place to do business, as well as I just think right now there’s five Nebraska businesses that are Certified B Corps. But I think there’s so many that are already qualified and just need to go through the process. Any thoughts on that?

Tony Goins:

Lyn, you’re absolutely right. I mean, I think there are a number of firms that if they took the time and attention to double down on the details, they could become B Corp firms. It’s just a part of the overall culture of state to perform in a manner that is synonymous with what happens at B Corp. So I would expect to see more companies starting to follow suit and by next year we should have more than five.

Lyn Wineman:

I hope so. I hope so. We’re doing our best to spread the gospel of B Corps there. So Tony, I’m going to ask you next my favorite question and everybody who listens to the podcast knows that I love motivational quotes.

Tony Goins:

Oh, boy.

Lyn Wineman:

I get to talk to such interesting people and I think we all have quotes from other people that we like, but I want a Tony Goins original quote to inspire our listeners.

Tony Goins:

Well, I don’t know whether this is an … this is not an original quote. I don’t think I have an original quote, but this is something that drives me every day and it’s really synonymous with leadership and it’s from the Bible. It says to whom much is given, much shall be required.

Lyn Wineman:

Oh. Yeah.

Tony Goins:

So that simply means, listen, when you’re in a position of leadership, then there’s a level of accountability and responsibility and you’ve been given a lot. You’ve been a given a lot. So the Bible says to whom much is given, much shall be required. Then I follow up with that to say typically when I do social media, I say #relationshipsmatter.

Lyn Wineman:

Yeah.

Tony Goins:

#kindnessmatters, and #weallwearthesamejersey.

Lyn Wineman:

Amen. Great. Great words of wisdom. I love all of those things you just said.

Tony Goins:

Yeah.

Lyn Wineman:

So Tony, for our listeners who would like to learn more about your work, maybe learn more about the campaign to drive business in Nebraska, where can they find out more?

Tony Goins:

They can find out more by going to … I think it’s the good life is calling.

Lyn Wineman:

Yeah.

Tony Goins:

thegoodlifeiscalling.com. I should know that website by heart, but if you google the good life is calling Nebraska, a lot of stuff comes up.

Lyn Wineman:

Fantastic. We’re going to put it in the show notes too.

Tony Goins:

Please do.

Lyn Wineman:

So anybody who didn’t get that will be able to link directly to that website because it’s a beautiful website.

Tony Goins:

Thank you. Yes, indeed.

Lyn Wineman:

So as we wrap up our time together today, Tony, what is the most important thing you would like our listeners to remember about the work that you’re doing?

Tony Goins:

I would say the most important thing I would like for everyone to remember is that the citizens of our state are really important. Your lives are important, your lives matter, and economic inclusion matters.

Lyn Wineman:

Yeah.

Tony Goins:

But we’ve got some areas in the state from an economic standpoint that have not prospered as well as others. We are focused on those areas. We’re focused on economic inclusion and economic growth for everyone. But there’s some areas that have had a tough time. North Omaha has had a tough time.

Lyn Wineman:

Yeah. Yeah.

Tony Goins:

South Omaha has not prospered as much and some of the rural areas going out towards greater Nebraska have not prospered as much. So we’ve got a laser focus on those areas. So economic conclusion does matter because when we can help all Nebraskans economically, then we think that’s really healthy for the entire state.

Lyn Wineman:

Right. We cannot be a great state unless we pay attention to everyone. What did you say in the beginning? All of our 1.9 million citizens.

Tony Goins:

Every one of us. Absolutely.

Lyn Wineman:

There you go. There you go. Tony, this has been so much fun talking with you and I true believe the world needs more people like you. We’re lucky to have you right here in Nebraska. Thank you for taking time to talk with me today.

Tony Goins:

Thank you, Lyn. Much appreciated.

Announcer:

We hope you enjoyed today’s Agency for Change podcast. To hear all our interviews with those who are making a positive change in our communities, or to nominate a changemaker you’d love to hear from, visit KidGlov.com at K-I-D-G-L-O-V.com to get in touch. As always, if you like what you’ve heard today, be sure to rate, review, subscribe, and share. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.

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