By Tracy Buffington
Touring Christensen Lumber on Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry leaned in and asked employee after employee what they were building.
He wasn't there to make a speech. Instead, it was a sort of fact-finding mission.
Not only did the 1st District representative learn about the company that now includes a fourth generation of the Christensen family, but he heard concerns about health care and welfare benefits.
Christensen Lumber employs about 100 people as it supplies contractors throughout the region. Much of its current business is with contractors building homes in Omaha.
The company does offer a high-deductible health plan with a health savings account, but Christensen officials said it has seen double-digit cost increases even with few claims.
"Health care is tough," Fortenberry said. "There is nothing I'm going to say here today that's going to solve it. There's a huge rift, a huge philosophical and policy debate.
"The Supreme Court is going to rule in a few weeks whether or not all of this new health care law or portions of it are constitutional or not. ... But you're in a particularly difficult situation because you don't have access to the larger pools in the small business market. That is a real sore spot; an area ripe for reform."
Fortenberry said he does try to get out to visit businesses in his district. Doing so reminds him of what makes Nebraska a good place to live and work.
"I actually got a call one time from a New York radio station and they wanted to know why Nebraska's statistics of well being -- unemployment, social well being -- are just off the charts," he aid. "We always love to say this is a great place to live and work and raise a family, but it's due to entrepreneurs that are willing to take risks, families that have a legacy in business that are providing good working environments for their employees, that obviously care about the people who are under their authority and care, so it's just a part of what we like to do.
"I wanted to make the point that here we do pride ourselves on the character of our state," he added. "If you make an effort, there should be a reward. We've seen that here today, too."