A Profile on Trevor Lee: NGage’s New Executive Director
22 Jun 2020
Trevor Lee has recently joined Gage Area Growth Enterprise (NGage) as its Executive Director. As an organization, NGage seeks to improve the communities in Gage County by retaining and growing our local businesses, increasing and improving a skilled workforce, and attracting new businesses to the area. As the Executive Director, Trevor will be focused on attracting new businesses to the area and helping existing businesses to expand.
Prior to joining NGage, Trevor was the Economic Developer in Ord, Nebraska. In that position, he was responsible for economic development and city planning and other civic duties. The position in Beatrice was attractive to him because of the opportunity to focus exclusively on economic development. “Beatrice and Gage County have strong organizational leadership structures that allow NGage to hone in on opportunities to grow the local economy,” he said.
We wanted to learn more about Trevor, his background, and what led him to NGage. Here is what he had to say:
Q: What inspired you to get into economic development?
A: I grew up in rural Southwest Nebraska. Prior to moving there in the 4th grade, we moved around a lot. I was in and out of a lot of schools and communities, but found a home in Cambridge, NE. It was a wonderful, progressive rural community that rallied around its people, particularly the youth. Through that experience, I came to value what communities could be and do for a family beyond being just a place to live and work. As an economic developer, I get to meet communities where they are at, help them to be the best versions of themselves, and help them position themselves for growth so that families can have the same opportunities that we did.
Q: What prepared you to become the Executive Director for NGage?
A: I hold a bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of Nebraska and a master's degree in Urban & Regional Planning from the University of Colorado. Prior to leading NGage, I spent seven years in Ord, NE as the lead economic development director and have served on a number of boards across the state, including the Nebraska Economic Developers Association and the Center for Entrepreneurship & Rural Development.
Q: You spent the past 7 years in Ord. What motivated you to take this position in Beatrice?
A: We were heavily invested in Ord and not planning on leaving. When I was first approached by the Board, I was flattered but graciously said “no thank-you”. Conversations continued and I said that we would come for a visit, but that we were not likely to leave Ord. That all changed when my wife and I saw how much Beatrice and Gage County had to offer. First were the amenities. From the miles and miles of trails to an impressive YMCA, two golf courses, and a downtown experiencing strategic revitalization - we knew that our family would have the quality of life here that we wanted for our children. From a career perspective, the move presented an opportunity to focus exclusively on the economic development activities that I was unable to perform in my previous position due to the number of hats I was wearing.
Q: What has it been like moving to Beatrice?
A: The community has been incredibly supportive and welcoming. Within days of moving into our home, we were greeted by friendly neighbors, food, and plenty of offers to babysit. I started the position in March, right when COVID-19 restrictions were put in place. The city provided me with a reserved camping stall in Riverside Park (which is beautiful) as we looked for a home and moved the family. Now that we are all under one roof, friends and neighbors have gone out of their way to welcome us into their social activities, from dinner and golf to backyard barbeques and trail walks. In addition, the Board has gone above and beyond to help us personally and professionally. Erin, having been with the organization since 2017 and leading the organization for several months, has been a tremendous resource and supporter through the transition. She’s a rockstar and I’m glad she’s on our team.
I have also appreciated how many young people are involved in the community and hold leadership positions on the boards and committees, including the CRA, Mainstreet, Chamber, etc.
Q: What is the current economic condition in Beatrice and Gage County?
A: There have certainly been changes due to COVID-19, like there have been everywhere. To say that our businesses have been forced to adapt is an understatement. The good news is that things are still happening. We are continuing to receive project requests and businesses are expanding. Although there has been significant disruption, most of our businesses planning to expand prior to COVID-19 are pressing forward with those plans. They are confident in their market and their existing workforce are positioning themselves for growth in the new economy.
Q: What are your future goals for NGage?
A: NGage has done a great job of prioritizing objectives, identifying target industries, and strategically pursuing them. We will stay the course with these activities but remain flexible in our approach and our targets as we watch the unfolding of the post-COVID economy. Business Retention & Expansion activities may also look different moving forward, both for our homegrown businesses and those with headquarters elsewhere.
We have a strong presence of international companies in Gage County and there are opportunities to recruit more. Companies selling products in the U.S. have suffered significant supply chain disruptions and a location in Gage County could provide a greater level of security and stability in the face of that.
Q: Is there anything the community can do to support you and NGage with these efforts?
A: We appreciate the continued support of our city, county, and private sector partners. We encourage the entire community to become ambassadors for Southeast Nebraska, Beatrice, and Gage County. Promote your community and all the things you love about it. Make sure that your dialogue around the kitchen table is a positive one. Ensure your children know there is opportunity for them here. We want our youth to go out into the world, to learn, explore, and grow. We also want them to come back to the abundant opportunities that exist for them as adults in Gage County. There is a significant skills gap in the U.S., and it is an unfortunate, self-inflicted ailment. For so long, our communities told us that we had to leave, get a four-year degree, and never return in order to find success. That is total nonsense. Whether you receive on the job training or pursue conventional post-secondary education, there are abundant opportunities right here in Gage County to build successful and rewarding careers.
Q: Your family has a similar story, doesn’t it?
A: Yes, my grandfather had an eighth-grade education and spent his young adulthood moving from job to job, place to place. It was a time of instability for their family and the continuation of a lineage of poverty. Shortly after he and my grandmother married, he found a job as a mail clerk at TRW, which would eventually become American Shizuki Corporation. He worked his way up and for the majority of his 37-year career with the company, he held the position of production manager. His career completely changed the trajectory of my family and the cycle of poverty that could have continued. People need to know that if they are willing to work hard in this sector, they can make a great career for themselves and change the trajectory of their family, without going to a four-year college. Good jobs are available with a certificate and two-year degree, and those jobs are growing in Gage County.
Q: How did your grandfather’s story pave the way for you?
A: It created a foundation for our family and, as with all foundations, it contributed to my success. I am a first-generation college graduate, have a wonderful family and can make a positive impact in my community personally and professionally. His experience made me aware of how great of an impact every company I help to recruit or grow can make on the lives of all our residents. It is the personal inspiration that is always present in recruiting conversations and when working to help local businesses grow.