Norfolk’s loss is Nebraska’s gain.
That’s the way city officials are viewing the news that Gov. Pete Ricketts has appointed Courtney Dentlinger of Norfolk to be the next director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED).
Ricketts announced Dentlinger’s selection as the state’s new economic development director Tuesday.
“During the search for the next economic development director, we looked for someone with the ability to market Nebraska both nationally and globally, and Courtney is that person,” Ricketts said. “Courtney will do an outstanding job working with our regional and statewide partners. She understands Nebraska, and will endeavor tirelessly to recruit the businesses and investment we need to continue to grow good-paying jobs in our state for the next generation.”
Dentlinger will assume her new position on Jan. 11, 2016. Her salary as the director of the DED will be $145,000 per year.
Dentlinger currently serves as the executive director of the Norfolk Area Economic Development Council and also serves as the City of Norfolk's lead person in regard to economic development work. In this position, she has built the new economic development department for the City of Norfolk from the ground up.
Shane Weidner, Norfolk’s city administrator, said he is happy for Dentlinger, but acknowledges that her shoes in Norfolk will be hard to fill.
“Courtney has accepted a job as the state economic development director, which is an amazing opportunity for her and well-deserved,” Weidner said. “However, it’s bittersweet because we lose her here locally. She’s done a bang-up job here as director. She brought a fledgling program together ... She’s going to be missed.”
Weidner said that Dentlinger still will be able to look out for Northeast Nebraska as the state economic director, and that she plans to help the City of Norfolk with the transition to her successor.
Weidner said that he expects the search for Dentlinger’s replacement to begin early next year.
“It’s all new,” said Weidner. “I’m sure I’ll get some guidance from the economic development council and from the mayor and council. We want to move slow so we can make sure we get the right person to fill her shoes. We tentatively plan to start looking after the first of the year.”
Before taking the reins of the Norfolk Area Economic Development Council, Dentlinger served as the executive director of development for Northeast Community College in Norfolk, where she managed capital campaigns including a $13 million campaign for the College of Nursing partnership with the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC).
From 2005-2007, she practiced law as an associate attorney at Fitzgerald, Vetter and Temple in Norfolk.
Dentlinger, 39, holds a bachelor's degree in political science, international studies and Spanish from Wayne State College and obtained her law degree from George Washington University of Law. She has served two terms on the board of directors for Legal Aid of Nebraska, and has been a member of the UNMC Board of Counselors since 2012.
“It’s an honor to join the governor’s team, and I look forward to working with him to grow our state,” Dentlinger said. “From our workforce to our pro-business climate, Nebraska is well-positioned to attract new investments. I look forward to partnering with the governor and the entire economic development community across our state.”
Her parents are Lee and Sharon Klein of Battle Creek, Nebraska. Her father was a state senator from 1995 to 1997. Dentlinger and her husband, Nick, a pilot for Delta Airlines, have three children.
Dentlinger replaces Brenda Hicks-Sorensen, who was dismissed in October. Ricketts had hired Hicks-Sorensen in February from Wisconsin. At the time of the firing, other economic development officials in the state said Nebraska needed someone with a stronger background in marketing and a better ability to connect with business leaders and state lawmakers.
David Brown, chief executive of the Omaha chamber, said Dentlinger has experience in large-scale economic development projects.
“She comes very highly recommended,” Brown said. “The folks in Norfolk think a lot of her. We’re looking forward to working with her.”
He said Dentlinger already knows economic development professionals around the state. “She will do a great job representing the governor and representing the state when dealing with economic development clients. She knows the state, and she knows the tax structure. She can kind of hit the ground running.”
The Battle Creek native returned to Nebraska in 2005 after working for the Association of International Educators in Washington, D.C., following her law studies.
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Editor’s note: The World-Herald News Service contributed to this story.