Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Omaha.com
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In the lucrative world of children’s products, the word on what’s new gets around fast these days, thanks to blogs and social media.
Omaha-based 624 Public Relations’ job is to build buzz about its client’s products. Recently, for example, it used local retailer Baby Junk to help promote one of its international clients, Charlie Banana, on Facebook.
Both brands benefited from the post. Charlie Banana, which produces cloth diapers and accessories, was able to showcase one of its retailers. Baby Junk was highlighted on a page that has more than 12,000 fans.
And it was a win for 624, a firm that specializes in working with lifestyle and consumer clients to promote products in the baby, mom and parenting industry.
The boutique agency moved to Omaha from Dallas earlier this year, one of the latest examples of small companies choosing to relocate to Omaha and Lincoln from larger metro areas. Among other things, the companies’ leaders found themselves attracted by the cities’ robust jobs market and available local talent as well as the area’s music, arts and restaurant scenes and revitalized city centers.
An Omaha native, 624 owner Caroline Sutton was facing the task of trying to build her business and raise her growing family. Last summer, she and her husband decided to move to Omaha, where they could take advantage of a strong family support network.
“We knew the best decision was to move here,” she said. “As a place to raise a family, that’s what you think of in Omaha.”
Besides the family benefits, 624 (pronounced six twenty-four — the date of Sutton’s wedding) is finding the perks of running a business based in Omaha. Flights in and out of Eppley Airfield are easier to navigate than they were in Dallas, and generally shorter, too. Plus, Sutton was able to take advantage of local talent when building her team.
When Sutton, who works from a home office with clients around the world, travels to events and meetings — like an event 624 hosted for a client recently in New York City — she often encounters surprise when people hear where she’s from.
“People don’t think of Omaha as a growing, vibrant city,” she said. “There are a lot of business opportunities here. Once you’re here, you see it.”
Keith Navratil and his wife, Alison, returned to Omaha from Chicago four years ago. Both worked at large agencies in Chicago, but they had an eye on eventually going out on their own. In February, they launched Needledrop LLC — a research firm focusing on product branding and strategy.
When they were finally ready to launch, there was a bit of apprehension about whether Omaha was the place to do it. As it turns out, Navratil said, Omaha was the best place to do it.
“There’s a thriving cultural and arts scene, which is personally important to us, but it will also help feed the pipeline for young people to want to come here,” he said. “Plus, Omaha stayed fairly insulated from the economic ups and downs, and that calmed us, too.
“We soon realized that it was probably going to work in our favor if we hitched our wagon to Omaha as the place to start out.”
Another business based in Lincoln, Bulu Box, made a similar move. Founded in San Francisco by Lincoln native Paul Jarrett and his wife, Stephanie, a Wahoo native, Bulu Box moved back to Nebraska in May after meeting with Nebraska-based investors while trying secure funding for the company’s launch.
Bulu Box is a monthly service that provides samples of vitamins and nutritional supplements. Subscribers can choose the ones they like best and purchase full-size quantities directly from the Bulu Box website.
The company’s move raised eyebrows in San Francisco’s startup community — similar to when Jarrett committed to Iowa State over Nebraska after being a high school football star at Pius X in Lincoln.
“San Francisco and New York are great, but here’s an amazing place with amazing people. And there are investors here, too,” Jarrett said.
He also cites the business advantages of affordable space — both for warehousing and offices — as well as the deep talent pool available through the university. Combined with incentive programs from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, he said it was a relatively easy sell to come to Lincoln.
“Everybody’s been talking about how with technology, you can work from anywhere,” Jarrett said. “It just made sense for us to be here.”
Now that Jarrett made his company’s home in Lincoln, he’s trying to convince other companies to make the move as well. This week, he’ll host a pair of companies who are considering moving from San Francisco to the midwest.
Lincoln’s branding campaign over the summer has gotten attention, Jarrett said. “There are literally people Googling Lincoln from a coffee shop, getting excited and calling me up. They want to know if it’s really like that here.”
Eric Bieller of Conversational.ly — a social website designed to connect foreign language-learners — is intrigued by the potential of the area. Though he’s currently in the Bay Area, Bieller is a native of southern Missouri and has also lived in Tennessee. He said Omaha and cities like it are gaining recognition because they don’t have an entrenched tech culture.
“If you don’t have hardcore roots out here, you end up being a small fish in a gigantic pond,” Bieller said. “It would be exciting to get in on the ground floor, rather than trying to break into an established scene.”
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