SIDNEY, NE — An ag-focused company that serves western Nebraska is working on a project to help local students.

Monday, the state of Nebraska awarded 21st Century Equipment a $125,000 grant. 21st Century Equipment President and CEO Owen Palm says the company is using the money to create a STEM mobile learning lab that can be used by local schools.

"This trailer will be equipped with virtual reality simulators, computer models and fixed displays that will allow students to experience the science and technology that is utilized in precision agriculture today," Palm said.

Palm says 21st Century Equipment is currently collaborating with about 20 school districts in the panhandle on the project.

The grant money is part of the state’s Developing Youth Talent Initiative (DYTI). The program introduces middle school students to careers in manufacturing, I-T, engineering and more.

Governor Pete Ricketts says the state has more people employed today than pre-pandemic. Despite that, many companies have plenty of openings. These grants are meant to address that.

"We've been working to be able to make sure companies can have access to the talent they need to be able to continue to grow in the state," Ricketts said. "That's what this Developing Youth Talent Initiative is all about."

21st Century Equipment is no exception. Palm says the company has about 40 openings, many of which require some sort of technical knowledge.

"It's our hope that introducing students in seventh and eighth grades will help us in our recruiting efforts down the road as we demonstrate to these kids the tremendous opportunities that exist for well-paying jobs while staying right in the local area," Palm said. 

21st Century Equipment has locations throughout western Nebraska, southeast Wyoming and northeast Colorado. 

In its history, the DYTI has awarded 19 grants in 16 companies. The resulting projects have impacted over 24,000 students across the state. The grants are administered by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.

Hebron-based MetalQuest, located in southeast Nebraska, received the other grant this year. They plan on using it to buy equipment to introduce students to industrial robotics automation and coding.