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The Pulse of Rural



Articles & Releases

Nebraska Thriving Index Insights: Tri-Cities Region

November 13, 2019
To continue digging into the details of the Nebraska Thriving Index, let’s focus next on the Tri-Cities region, which has the second highest thriving index at 136 and ranks first among its peers overall. Using the online interactive tool, we …

To continue digging into the details of the Nebraska Thriving Index, let’s focus next on the Tri-Cities region, which has the second highest thriving index at 136 and ranks first among its peers overall.

Using the online interactive tool, we find the Tri-Cities outpaces its peer regions in the Growth Index, ranking:

  • 1st in returns on wealth (dividends, interest, and rent income)
  • 2nd in growth in households with children

The Tri-Cities also ranks first among its peers for the overall Economic Opportunity & Diversity, including first for the entrepreneurial environment measures:

  • Entrepreneurial activity
  • Employer establishments per 1,000 residents

Also, the Tri-Cities ranks first for many aspects of quality of life, including:

  • Commute times (lowest)
  • Natural climate and recreation amenities
  • Designated national monuments and sites
  • Access to daycare providers

The region does, however, face some challenges. Its lowest ranking is fifth of seven peers in the Education & Skills Index. Drilling down into this, we see that although the Tri-Cities has healthy labor force participation rates, the region ranks significantly lower than peer regions for the measures:

  • College attainment rate (4th of 7)
  • High school attainment rate (5th of 7)
  • Percent knowledge workers (5th of 7)

This indicates that relative to its peers, the Tri-Cities region has difficulty attracting and retaining high-skill workers. 

The Tri-Cities region may want to prioritize workforce development initiatives such as:

  • Enhancing awareness about innovative recruitment and retention practices in non-metro and small metro areas
  • Facilitating collaboration among strategic partners to address education, training, and workforce development needs of the regional business community

To learn more, dig in yourself, at ruralfutures.nebraska.edu/nethrivingindex. We encourage users to submit insights, questions and examples of strategies their community has employed in various areas of measure in the Nebraska Thriving Index.

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Nebraska Thriving Index Insights: Panhandle Region

November 4, 2019
Next up in our exploration of the insights from the Nebraska Thriving Index — the Panhandle region of Banner, Box Butte, Cheyenne, Dawes, Deuel, Garden, Kimball, Morrill, Scottsbluff, Sheridan and Sioux counties. With a Nebraska Thriving Index value of 98, …
Nebraska Thriving Index Panhandle Region, Garden County

Next up in our exploration of the insights from the Nebraska Thriving Index — the Panhandle region of Banner, Box Butte, Cheyenne, Dawes, Deuel, Garden, Kimball, Morrill, Scottsbluff, Sheridan and Sioux counties.

With a Nebraska Thriving Index value of 98, the Panhandle region ranks just below the peer average of 100, but third among its six peer regions, which are listed in the full print report.

This “average” ranking masks several areas of strength and weakness.

The region is an entrepreneurial place that values education and offers a diverse pool of work opportunities. These features allow the Panhandle region to have a resilient economy, which is explicitly expressed through a first-place ranking in the Economic Opportunity & Diversity Index.

Using the interactive online tool, users can drill down into the region’s rankings among its peers for each of the measures that comprise this index:

  • 1st in industrial diversity
  • 1st in telecommuters
  • 1st in occupational diversity
  • 1st (tied) for businesses per 1,000 residents
  • 2nd in entreprenial activity per 1,000 people
  • 4th in percent of workers  in non-employer establishment
  • 4th in non-farm proprietors per 1,000 persons

Despite the opportunities, the Panhandle region lags in terms of economic and demographic growth.

Compared to its six peer regions, in the Growth Index the Panhandle ranks last in total employment growth and private employment. The following are its rankings in the other growth index measures, all of which are over the 2014 – 2017 timeframe:

  • 5th in private wage growth
  • 5th in growth in households with children
  • 6th in dividend, interest and rent income growth

As for the Demographic Growth & Renewal Index, the Panhandle ranks fourth and well below the peer average for all of the measures comprising this index:

  • 2nd in percent of population that is Hispanic
  • 4th in Millennial and Gen Z balance change
  • 4th in median age
  • 4th in percent of population that is non-white
  • 5th in long-run population growth (growth in the population over the last 17 years)
  • 5th in the dependency ratio (share of the population below the age of 18 and over the age of 65)

The Panhandle region can work to improve its fundamental economic conditions to encourage economic and demographic growth, while preserving its entrepreneurial culture. Specific steps may include:

  • Build on existing strengths in the Education & Skills Index by encouraging more residents to pursue certificates and community college degrees, which have value in the labor market, and help more young people complete high school.
  • Harness the region’s entrepreneurial strength to further enhance service, retail and entertainment options.
  • Improve highway infrastructure in the region.
  • Improve access to health care practitioners.
  • Grow “workforce housing” or take other steps to modernize the housing stock.

The other Indexes and their rankings for the Panhandle region include:

  • 3rd in Education & Skill Index: education attainment, labor force participation and employment in knowledge-based occupations
  • 3rd in Infrastructure & Cost of Doing Business Index: broadband internet access, presence of interstate, count of 4-year colleges, weekly wage rate, top marginal income tax rate, count of qualified opportunity zones
  • 3rd in Quality of Life Index: commute time, percent of housing built pre-1950, relative weekly wage rate, violent crime rate, property crime rate, natural amenities, health care access (practitioners per capita), daycare providers per capita, count of parks (state, local, national), people per arts and rec worker
  • 4th in Social Capital Index: number of 501c3 organizations per 1,000 persons, volunteer rate (state), volunteer hours per resident (state), voter turnout, share of Tree City USA counties
  • 6th in Other Prosperity Index: life span, non-wage sources of income, income volatility and poverty rate

Have a question, insight or suggestion for the Nebraska Thriving Index? Reach out to us!

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RFI Fellows application deadlines extended — apply by 10/25!

October 15, 2019
There is still time to apply for a summer 2020 Rural Futures Institute Fellow experience! The deadline has been extended from Oct. 17 to Oct. 25. A catalyst for a community $4 million c-store >>>The best professional development of her career >>>A …


There is still time to apply for a summer 2020 Rural Futures Institute Fellow experience! The deadline has been extended from Oct. 17 to Oct. 25.

A catalyst for a community $4 million c-store >>>
The best professional development of her career >>>
A life-changing, perspective altering experience >>>
These are just a few of the outcomes of Rural Futures Institute Fellows — what will be yours?

We have extended the deadline for students and communities to apply for a summer 2020 RFI Fellows experience, but given the details requested applicants are encouraged to give themselves plenty of time to complete the application. If you have questions, please contact Sam Guenther at sguenther@nebraska.edu.


The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska is seeking highly-motivated students and passionate community leaders to increase their inclusive leadership capacity while creating the future of Nebraska’s rural communities through workforce development, economic development, recruitment and retention of residents, access and more.

Deemed RFI Fellows, selected students and community innovators will join forces for 10 weeks during summer 2020 to make significant progress on strategic community initiatives and priority projects while immersing themselves in 1-to-1 inclusive leadership coaching with the University of Nebraska’s Helen Fagan, Ph.D. 

Students will live, work and serve in the community they are focused on, and community innovators will invite them into the life of rural Nebraska. 

“This is a tremendous opportunity for communities to accomplish tangible work through students, but it is also transformational for all of the people involved,” Fagan said. “To truly make a thriving rural future for Nebraska, we need thriving individuals who include and inspire others.”

After completing the application, students will be interviewed in November and notified of the selection in December. Communities will work through project definitions with RFI staff throughout the winter and everyone will be matched based on projects that fit their expertise and interests in early 2020. All fellows are required to complete training before the in-community experience, which will take place May 25 – July 31, 2020.

Students are paid $12.50 per hour with housing and equipment for projects provided by the communities. RFI is available to assist communities as they seek funding, which is estimated at $12,000 per pair of student fellows.

“I have never grown so much personally in such a short amount of time like I did during my RFI fellows experience this summer,” said Hailey Walmsley, agricultural education major at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. “I came back to school with a new confidence, and I can’t wait to watch the great work RFI Fellows from all of the campuses and more communities will continue to do in the coming years.”

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Nebraska Thriving Index Insights: North 81 Region

September 24, 2019
Now that you’ve had a chance to review the Nebraska Thriving Index, let’s start digging into the details! First up, the North 81 region, which has the highest thriving index at 144 and ranks first among its peers overall. Drilling …

Norfolk, Nebraska

Now that you’ve had a chance to review the Nebraska Thriving Index, let’s start digging into the details! First up, the North 81 region, which has the highest thriving index at 144 and ranks first among its peers overall.

Drilling down via the online interactive tool, we find that North 81 outpasses its peer regions in the Growth Index, ranking:

  • First in wage levels
  • First in growth in households with children
  • Second in wage growth

And, unlike many Nebraska regions, North 81 also ranks first among its peers for the overall Education and Skill Index, including first for the measures:

  • Labor force participation
  • Share of the adult population with a bachelor’s degree

North 81 also ranks first for many aspects of quality of life, including access to daycare providers and arts and recreation opportunities.

The region also faces some challenges. It’s lowest ranking is fourth of six peers in the Infrastructure and Cost of Doing Business Index. Drilling down into this, we see the region’s weekly wage rate measure is singificantly lower than peer regions. The region also has:

  • The longest average commute time among its peer regions
  • Ranks last among its peers for both industry and occupation diversity

To learn more, dig in yourself at ruralfutures.nebraska.edu/nethrivingindex and join us on Oct. 18 at noon CST for a webinar with project team member Mitch Herian. We also encourage users to submit insights and questions.

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