Nebraska Thriving Index identifies economic growth, quality of life, social capital as regional advantages in the state

According to the first annual Nebraska Thriving Index rural regions in the state are relatively strong for economic growth, quality of life and social capital. Concerns from the findings are in education and skill, which includes education attainment, labor force participation and employment in knowledge-based occupations.

Developed by researchers and students within the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Business and the University of Nebraska at Kearney College of Business and Technology, the Nebraska Thriving Index is a benchmarking tool to help leaders spot trends and drill down into potential causes at a regional level. 

Nebraska Thriving Index the is the first report of its kind for rural areas of the state with indexes developed specifically for the rural context. It is supported and administered by the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska, and both the full report and interactive comparison tool are available at ruralfutures.nebraska.edu/nethrivingindex.

Eric Thompson, Director of the Bureau of Business Research, leads the Nebraska Thriving Index research team. He also leads the data collection and analysis for the Omaha Barometer and Lincoln Economic Dashboard, which alerted him to the critical need for rural communities, and the state as a whole, to have the same type of analysis. 

“What our rural community leaders were working with in terms of data collection and analysis as well as comparison localities were not at as actionable as they could be,” Thompson said. “They needed true peers to gauge their successes and shortcomings, and they needed data collected with the rural context in mind. Now they have it.”

In total, eight rural Nebraska regions were created in an iterative process, which considered Nebraska Economic Development Regions, Nebraska Economic Development Districts, information from the Nebraska Department of Labor and the expertise of project participants.

Peer regions were selected via the Mahalanobis matching technique, which compares all regions according to the fundamental economic characteristics of each region, such as total population, economic structure and urban orientation. A list of five to eight benchmarking regions was selected based on the similarity according to these characteristics. 

Three indexes calculate economic growth and five indexes quantify economic conditions in rural Nebraska. Within each index, there are four to 10 variables, resulting in nearly 50 measures of data. The data was collected by four undergraduate research assistants from entities such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Community Survey, state websites and more.

“To have this quality of data and analysis so accessible and immediately usable frees up our limited resources to focus on strategies and implementation,” said Sharon Hueftle, executive director for Nebraska’s South Central Economic Development District. “We can target specific measures that we believe will help us reach our goals, and the year-over-year report will show us whether or not we’re making progress. This is a really significant contribution from the University to rural Nebraska, and we plan to help the research team continue to refine it.”

In terms of economic development, findings suggest that growth has been relatively strong in Nebraska’s micropolitan and small metropolitan regions, with three of eight regions ranked first among their peers.

Micropolitan and small metropolitan regions also performed well in quality of life, which includes commute times, relative wages, public safety, climate and recreational amenities, and access to health care, day care, parks, and arts and cultural opportunities. Quality of life is critical for attracting and retaining residents in a region. Three regions all ranked first among their peers.

Nearly all Nebraska regions rank high relative to their peers for social capital. The Sandhills region ranks first among its peers while the North 81, Northeast, Siouxland, and Southwest regions all rank second and the Southeast and Tri-Cities regions rank third. The Panhandle region ranks fourth. 

“The Rural Futures Institute envisioned this tool as a tangible deliverable to empower rural communities forward,” said Katelyn Ideus, RFI director of communications and public relations. “Getting it into the hands of economic developers, school and hospital administrators, elected officials and other stakeholders is really exciting for us. We believe the Nebraska Thriving Index can help them clarify their pursuits, substantiate their causes and demonstrate their successes. And we encourage everyone to reach out to us to help us evolve it as we look to publish again in 2020 and 2021.”

Nebraska regions listed with thriving index score (100 = peer average) and ranking among peers

North 81
144
1st

Northeast
103
3rd

Panhandle
98
3rd

Sandhills
109
2nd

Siouxland
105
3rd

Southeast
112
3rd

Southwest
95
5th

Tri-Cities
136
1st

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September 23, 2019

North 81 Region Insights

The Nebraska Thriving Index is LIVE! Let’s start digging into the details! First up, the North 81 region, which has the highest thriving index at 144 and ranks 1st among its peers overall.

Each of the indexes are comprised of 5-10 measures, providing a robust view of where rural Nebraska is compared to several peer regions. North 81 ranks particularly well with four firsts.

Drilling down via the interactive online tool, we see North 81 out paces its peers significantly in “employer establishments per 1,000 residents” measure of the Economic Opportunity & Diversity Index, which reflects the formation & survival rate of employer establishments & transitions between employer and non-employer status.

North 81’s lowest ranking index is Infrastructure & Cost of Doing Business. In this Index, we see the lowest ranking measure is “Weekly Wage Rate.” The hourly wage rates influence the competitive conditions for business.

Nebraska Thriving Index Insights: North 81 Region

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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September 18, 2019

The Nebraska Thriving Index is LIVE! The first economic and quality of life benchmarking tool for rural Nebraska. Identify trends in your region and drill down into potential causes to create purposeful strategies for a thriving rural future!

Nebraska Thriving Index

“To have this quality of data and analysis so accessible and immediately usable frees up our limited resources to focus on strategies and implementation,” said Sharon Hueftle, executive director for Nebraska’s South Central Economic Development District. “We can target specific measures that we believe will help us reach our goals, and the year-over-year report will show us whether or not we’re making progress. This is a really significant contribution from the University to rural Nebraska, and we plan to help the research team continue to refine it.”

Create The Future In Nebraska — Apply To Be A 2020 Rural Futures Institute Fellow

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. 

Details and applications for the experience are at ruralfutures.nebraska.edu/fellows. The deadline to apply is Oct. 17, 2019, and informational webinars are scheduled for Sept. 26 (communities) and Oct. 3 (students).

“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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Contact
Katelyn Ideus
Director of Communications
Rural Futures Institute and National Strategic Research Institute
University of Nebraska
(402) 659-5886
kideus@nebraska.edu

Oct. 1, 2019

We’re proud to make progress happen, but more than anything we’re proud to empower the people who are driving rural communities into a thriving future.

Be an RFI Community Innovation Fellow in 2020. Apply by Oct. 17, 2019.

RFI Community Innovation Applicaton

Andrew Ambriz is Executive Director of Custer Economic Development Corporation (CEDC) and a University of Nebraska-Lincoln alum!

September 24, 2019

Dr. Helen Fagan leads RFI Fellows through inclusive leadership development training with weekly 1:1 coaching sessions and critical intrapersonal awareness development.

This growth is intense, rapid and life-changing. To welcome others, you really need to know yourself.

Be a 2020 RFI Student Fellow for yourself and to empower a thriving rural future in Nebraska!

RFI Student Fellows Application