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The Pulse of Rural



Articles & Releases

Nebraska Thriving Index Insights: Siouxland Region

December 18, 2019
It’s time to explore the Siouxland region through the Nebraska Thriving Index. The region’s thriving index score ranks 5th among Nebraska regions at 105 — just above the peer average of 100 and 3rd among six peer regions. Highlights for …
Nebraska Thriving Index Siouxland Region, South Sioux City

It’s time to explore the Siouxland region through the Nebraska Thriving Index. The region’s thriving index score ranks 5th among Nebraska regions at 105 — just above the peer average of 100 and 3rd among six peer regions.

Highlights for this region are its 1st-place rankings among its peer regions in the following economic prosperity and conditions indexes:

  • Growth 
  • Demographic Growth & Renewal
  • Quality of Life

Drilling into the measures that comprise these indexes via the online interactive tool, we find several 1st-place rankings among peers:

  • Total employment growth
  • Private wage growth
  • Median age
  • Percent non-white
  • Percent hispanic
  • Millennial and Gen Z balance change
  • Commute time
  • Relative weekly wage
  • Natural amenities
  • Count of parks

Considering all of these together, we can see strong growth for this region currently and into the future. Wage growth, combined with population diversity and a higher balance change in the younger population as well as perks for younger generations are all strengths for future economic and population. 

We also find some interesting opportunities for the region to double down on its strengths of these 1st-place indexes by improving in the following measures, which rank last among peers:

  • Private employment
  • Healthcare access (practitioners per capita)
  • Property crime rate

Areas of concern for the Siouxland region include 6th-place (last) rankings among peers in the following indexes:

  • Economic Opportunity & Diversity 
  • Other Prosperity
  • Education & Skill
  • Infrastructure & Cost of Doing Business

Broadly speaking, the region ranks poorly for entrepreneurship, poverty rate and income from wealth. It also has a lower share of adults who have completed a college degree or work in STEM or other professional occupations.  

Several last-place measures bring down the Siouxland region’s Economic Opportunity & Diversity and Other Prosperity indexes:

  • Non-farm proprietors per 1,000 persons
  • Entrepreneurial activity
  • Occupation diversity
  • Non-farm proprietor personal income
  • Percent in poverty
  • Share of income from dividends, interest and rent

The Education & Skill Index is interesting in that the Siouxland region ranks first in labor force participation and high school attainment, but last in both college attainment and percent knowledge workers.

Finally, in the Infrastructure & Cost of Doing Business Index, a 2nd-place ranking in top marginal income tax rate is accompanied by low rankings in:

  • Weekly wage rate – 6th (last) among peers
  • Broadband internet access – 5th among peers
  • Presence of interstate – 4th (tied, last) among peers
  • Count of 4-year colleges – 4th (tied, last) among peers

Given the significant strengths but also significant weaknesses of the Siouxland region defined by the Nebraska Thriving Index, next steps for the region to consider are: 

  • Maintain a welcoming environment for minority populations to encourage demographic growth and diversity.
  • Work to reduce barriers to start, transition, and grow a business by partnering with agencies/organizations in the region to provide services for new entrepreneurs to navigate the entrepreneurial process.
  • Identify best practice models that have been used nationwide to address poverty and facilitate collaboration among the region’s strategic partners.
  • Work to get the STEM/other professional occupations-based career messaging into targeted locations to increase awareness about education and career opportunities among students, parents, teachers, and administrators.  

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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2019 RFI Fellows generate $111,844 of market value in Nebraska communities

December 11, 2019
2019 Rural Futures Institute Fellows from Nebraska communities, the University of Nebraska at Kearney, University of Nebraska–Lincoln and other academic institutions created tremendous impact in rural areas of the state throughout summer 2019.  From strategic planning to resource mapping to …
2019 RFI Fellows

2019 Rural Futures Institute Fellows from Nebraska communities, the University of Nebraska at Kearney, University of Nebraska–Lincoln and other academic institutions created tremendous impact in rural areas of the state throughout summer 2019. 

From strategic planning to resource mapping to writing radio ads and taking photos, there was no shortage of deliverables from the nine RFI Student Fellows who spent 10 weeks working, serving and living in Chadron, Custer County, Garden County and Grand Island.

Evaluation of the program from the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln estimates the market value for the participating communities at $111,844 total — $34,246 for Custer County, $29,920 for Chadron, $25,581 Garden County and $22,097 for Grand Island. A breakdown of the estimated market value evaluations peer location are available at ruralfutures.nebraska.edu/2019fellows.

“This is a testament to the commitment of the RFI Community Innovation Fellows and the RFI  Student Fellows — they came together purposefully to accomplish work and grow as leaders,” said Helen Fagan, RFI director of leadership engagement. “We are so pleased with their accomplishments in terms of their output, but more than anything we are proud of how they have evolved as leaders and individuals.”

The highest value efforts of the fellows included:

  • $12,317 for resource mapping of health resources in Chadron and western Nebraska. The effort provides a more comprehensive understanding of mental health resources available in the region.
  • $10,962 for development of the “Builders Program” designed to teach entrepreneurial skills to high school students in Custer County as well as a “Passport Program” to supplement the state passport program, which will be used to generate increased tourism for the county.
  • $8,556 for strategy development of the Communities for Kids Project conducted by the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation. Fellows followed up on a NCFF survey with listening sessions and interviews and coordinated focus groups and community meetings about the results. They then developed key messages and an action plan for the future.

“This RFI Fellows experience allows our communities to leverage the talent at the University of Nebraska to make visible and notable progress on the projects that matter most to our organizations and our residents,” said RFI Community Innovation Fellow Andrew Ambriz, Executive Director of Custer Economic Development. “RFI fellows are always qualified, motivated and autonomous — adept at collaborating with everyone in the community to build trust and enrollment in what they’re working on. I highly encourage every community to consider being part of this program.”

Evolving the experience from RFI’s previous “serviceship” program, Fagan — an inclusive leadership development expert and professor of practice in Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications (ALEC) department at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln — incorporated leadership development training and one-to-one coaching into the program this year. This is valued at $4,000 per participant, and each community may have two participants deemed RFI Community Innovation Fellows.

“The coaching has made me a better manager, and a better communicator,” said RFI Community Innovation Fellow Sandy Montague-Roes, Director of Western Community Health Resources. “I had no idea I would grow this much through this process.”

With a team of researchers and graduate students from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, University of Nebraska at Kearney and the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Fagan will develop a model and measure of Inclusive Community Leadership Development.

Incorporating both the commitment from student and community innovation participates as well as the research justified the promotion of participants to “fellows.”

“RFI was truly a life changing experience,” said RFI Student Fellow Kersten Peters, University of Nebraska at Kearney student. “I never knew what rural was, until I was a part of RFI.”

If you are interested in participating or supporting RFI Fellows, please email RFI at ruralfutures@nebraska.edu

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Nebraska Thriving Index Insights: Southeast Region

December 11, 2019
We’re looking at the Southeast region through the Nebraska Thriving Index today. The region’s thriving index score ranks 3rd among Nebraska regions at 112 — the peer average is 100. Among its nine peer regions, it ranks a strong 3rd. …
Nebraska Thriving Index Southeast Region, Geneva, Nebraska

We’re looking at the Southeast region through the Nebraska Thriving Index today. The region’s thriving index score ranks 3rd among Nebraska regions at 112 — the peer average is 100. Among its nine peer regions, it ranks a strong 3rd.

Highlights for this region are its 2nd-place rankings among its peer regions in the following economic prosperity indexes:

  • Growth 
  • Other Prosperity

Drilling into the measures that comprise these indexes via the online interactive tool, we find:

  • Growth in households with children – 1st among peers
  • Percent in poverty – 1st among peers
  • Growth in dividends, interest and rent (DIR) income – 2nd among peers
  • Total personal income stability – 2nd among peers

We also find some interesting opportunities for the region to double down on its strengths by improving in the following measures that comprise the growth and other prosperity indexes:

  • Private wage growth – 7th among peers
  • Life span – 7th among peers

Areas of concern for the Southeast region include the following indexes:

  • Economic Opportunity & Diversity – 7th among peers
  • Education and Skill – 6th among peers
  • Infrastructure & Cost of Doing Business – 6th among peers

Broadly speaking, the region has less diverse employment opportunities and relatively poor access to broadband infrastructure and interstate highways. The region also ranks low for access to key service providers such as health care practitioners and day care providers. 

Interesting economic opportunity and diversity measures include:

  • Industry diversity – 8th (last) among peers
  • Share of workers in non-employer establishment – 6th among peers
  • Occupation diversity- 6th among peers
  • Non-farm proprietors per 1,000 persons – 6th among peers

Education and skill is the area of concern for the entire state. For the Southeast region, the main issue is labor force participation rate in which it ranks 7th among its 9 peer regions. Workers combine job experience with education in developing their human capital. Workers gain experience fastest in regions where a larger share of the population participates in the workforce.

Breaking down the infrastructure and cost of doing business index via the online interactive tool, we see some measures of lagging but also leading:

  • Broadband internet access – 8th (last) among peers
  • Presence of interstate – 8th (last) among peers
  • Top marginal income tax rate – 2nd among peers
  • Count of 4-year colleges – 2nd among peers

Given the strengths and weaknesses of the Southeast region defined by the Nebraska Thriving Index, next steps for the region to consider are: 

  • Facilitate collaboration among the region’s education institutions and the business community to address education, training, and workforce development needs of the region.
  • Identify top barriers to full labor participation in the region, such as childcare, transportation, health care, poor work history, currently untapped labor pools, online degrees, and/or lack of soft skills and work with agencies/organizations in the region to create and/or enhance programs to address these barriers.  
  • Improve highway infrastructure in the region.
  • Improve broadband infrastructure in the region to improve business performance and quality of life. 
  • Maintain a welcoming environment for minority populations to encourage demographic growth and diversity.

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: Sandhills Region

December 5, 2019
Let’s talk about the Sandhills Region — a Nebraska Thriving Index of 109, just above the peer average of 100, and ranking second among six peer regions. This region includes Blaine, Boyd, Brown, Cherry, Custer, Garfield, Grant, Greeley, Holt, Hooker, Keya …
Nebraska Thriving Index Sandhills Regions - Ord, Neb.

Let’s talk about the Sandhills Region — a Nebraska Thriving Index of 109, just above the peer average of 100, and ranking second among six peer regions. This region includes Blaine, Boyd, Brown, Cherry, Custer, Garfield, Grant, Greeley, Holt, Hooker, Keya Paha, Loup, Rock, Thomas, Valley and Wheeler counties. It’s “average” ranking masks several areas of strengths and weakness.

The Sandhills region is an entrepreneurial place with high education attainment and strong social capital. These factors have allowed the region to match the peer average for the Growth Index and exceed the average for the Economic Opportunity & Diversity, Education & Skill and Social Capital Indexes.

It ranks first in the following drill down measures:

  • Employment growth
  • Employer establishments per 1,000 residents
  • Share of telecommuters
  • Share of workers in non-employer establishments
  • 25+ high school attainment
  • 501c3 organizations per 1,000 people

Despite is obvious success, there are some areas of opportunity for the Sandhills region to catch up to its peers in Demographic Growth & Renewal as well as Quality of Life — it ranks last in both of these indexes.

The Demographic Growth and Renewal Index measures long-term population growth, demographic diversity, median age and dependency, and the growth of younger generations. Drilling in via the online interactive tool, we find that the region ranks last in all of the following measures:

  • Dependency ratio
  • Median age
  • Percent non-white
  • Percent Hispanic
  • Long-run population growth

It is second to last in the final measure, Millennial and Gen Z balance change.

In terms of quality of life, which is a measure of the appeal of living and working in a region, the Sandhills Region earned the following rankings within its peer group:

  • 1st – violent crime rate
  • 2nd – property crime rate
  • 3rd – daycare providers per capita
  • 4th – healthcare access (practitioners per capita)
  • 4th – natural amenities
  • 5th – commute time
  • 5th – Count of parks (state, local, national)
  • 6th – percent of housing built pre-1950
  • 6th – relative weekly wage
  • 6th – people per arts & rec worker

To improve its fundamental economic conditions of the region and stem the rate of population loss, while preserving its entrepreneurial culture, the Sandhills Region could:

  • Harness the region’s entrepreneurial strength to further enhance service, retail and entertainment options and tourism activity
  • Improve broadband infrastructure in the region to improve business performance and quality of life.
  • Maintain a welcoming environment for minority populations to encourage demographic growth and diversity.
  • Grow workforce housing or take other steps to modernize the housing stock.

For even more details about the Sandhills Region, use the interactive online tool and download the print report at ruralfutures.nebraska.edu/nethrivingindex.

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