Growing Our State Through People Attraction, Retention & Development

“…business development in Nebraska is directly tied to the development
and growth of available ‘talent.’”


As the “talent attraction coordinator” for Nebraska’s Department of Economic Development (DED), my business is growing Nebraska. My team is dedicated to attracting, retaining and developing the people of Nebraska to match the growing job opportunities here.

  • Attract — Coordinate an extensive communications and outreach effort that promotes Nebraska as welcoming and attracts a diverse group of talented individuals to the state to live and work.
  • Retain — Develop programs and foster an environment that results in individuals remaining in the state.
  • Develop — Serve as a catalyst for advancing ideas, partnerships and actions that create and enhance pathways to career opportunities for Nebraska residents.


The Context

For many years, DED heard from businesses looking for help finding more people, or “talent.” In 2016, my team and I at DED surveyed 263 primary sector businesses (i.e. businesses that import capital into the community from outside the region) during company conversations and visits. Results showed that nearly 50% of these businesses experienced increasing employment needs and 80% reported experiencing recruitment problems.

Nebraska has the fourth lowest unemployment rate (2.8% in May 2017) and the fourth highest labor participation rate (69.5% in May 2017) in the nation. With few unemployed people seeking work and a limited pool of residents to add to the labor force, it is critical that Nebraska be proactive in both retaining the current workforce and attracting new people to the state to fill the growing opportunities here.

According to the US Census Bureau, Nebraska’s migration trends show that there was a net loss of 2,551 persons in state-to-state migration in 2014. Nebraskan’s aged 25 years and older with a Bachelor’s Degree or more education—key population from which high-skilled workers are often hired—left the state at an average rate of 11,861 per year over the 5-year period between 2011 and 2015, resulting in an outmigration of -6.5 per 1,000 people and ranking Nebraska 9th worst nationally. Migration trends coupled with Nebraska’s aging population has made this outmigration even more pronounced in rural areas. In 71 of Nebraska’s 93 counties, particularly in less densely populated Western Nebraska, there is a median age of 40 or older according to the US Census Bureau. People exiting the workforce for retirement in the coming years will exacerbate this already pressing issue.

Median Age 40 or Older in 71 of 93 counties

Additionally, according to the Nebraska Department of Labor, there were 64,128 job openings advertised on its NEworks website in May 2017. This amounts to more than two job ads for every unemployed person in Nebraska. Conversely, industry projections predict growth in employment in 18 of the 20 industry sectors through 2022, with a total statewide growth of 9.54% between 2012 and 2022. Industry growth is undoubtedly already hindered by Nebraska’s tight labor market.


What This Means

All of this points to the fact that business development in Nebraska is directly tied to the development and growth of available “talent.” We have worked closely with the business community to identify the skills gaps and developed partnerships with the Department of Labor, Department of Education and other training providers to build talent pipelines. We strive to ensure our youth have experiences that will help them make thoughtful and well-informed career and education decisions. Over the last couple of years, DED has adjusted its strategy to intentionally include the attraction and retention of people as well.

I was hired about 18 months ago to research talent trends, develop a talent attraction and retention strategy and implement talent-focused initiatives. This research and many conversations with people and businesses across Nebraska has led me to believe that we will be most successful in recruiting young people (e.g. millennials) who have previously lived in Nebraska back to Nebraska. Some of us in this field like to call these individuals “boomerangs.”

Results from a 2010 Gallup survey of individuals who had previously lived in Nebraska revealed that people under 30 years old are more likely to return to Nebraska. Specifically, 45% of survey participants under 30 years old said there was at least a 50% chance they would someday return to Nebraska, in comparison to only 23% of overall participants who reported at least a 50% chance of returning to Nebraska.

DED recently collaborated with the University of Nebraska–Lincoln to update some of Gallup’s previous findings through a survey of University of Nebraska–Lincoln alumni who currently live outside of the state. In this survey, 87.9% of millennials (respondents born after 1980) responded “Yes” or “Maybe” when asked if they would return to Nebraska if the opportunity presented itself, compared to a slightly lower percentage, 83.9%, of overall participants. If they responded “Yes” or “Maybe” we followed up by asking how likely they were to return to Nebraska; 37.2% of millennials responded they were either “Very likely” or “Somewhat likely” to return compared to 34.6% of all participants.

Would you Return
to Nebraska?

How likely are you
to return to Nebraska?

AllisonHatch_PieCharts AllisonHatch_PieCharts2


DED Talent-Focused Initiatives

DED is in the process of implementing several talent-focused initiatives. According to the Development counselors international 10 Top Tips in Talent Attraction publication, one of the primary elements of any successful talent attraction and development strategy is to have a well-organized, visually compelling, informative web presence. My team is currently working closely with a website developer to create a one-stop-shop website that will promote Nebraska as a great place to live, work and play. The website is expected to launch this November and will feature job opportunities, culture and quality of life aspects, training opportunities and community engagement opportunities. Potential new residents will be drawn in by personal stories of people who love living in Nebraska and have the opportunity to connect directly with passionate Nebraskans eager to help them learn more about the state.

DED and a group of talent-focused economic development and chambers of commerce professionals are working collaboratively to create this network of passionate Nebraskans who will connect with potential new residents. When someone from outside of Nebraska shares that they are interested in learning more about living and working here, a volunteer from the network we are building will reach out to them directly to address their questions. The network, which will undoubtedly include many young professionals across the state, will also be asked to share the good news about Nebraska with their family and friends. I know that Nebraska’s current residents and employees are one of our most valuable resources as well as our state’s best recruiters. I hope that engaging Nebraskans in this effort to promote our state will also help strengthen their own desire to stay here.

My team and I will continue to work diligently on these projects, and many others still in the formation stages, to grow the state through attracting, retaining and developing great people. I know that I will reach out to you all for support and inspiration as well. Connecting Young Nebraskans was established to connect, empower and retain young leaders in the rural areas of Nebraska, making you an essential partner in DED’s mission to grow the state. I am thrilled about the possibilities of how we can achieve these goals together.



Allison Hatch

Allison Hatch

Talent Attraction Coordinator | Nebraska Department of Economic Development
Join Allison on LinkedIn

Allison Hatch oversees a state strategy for attracting qualified talent for growing job opportunities. She is involved with coordinating an extensive communications and outreach effort that promotes Nebraska as welcoming and attracts a diverse group of talented individuals to the state to live and work; developing programs and fostering an environment that results in individuals remaining in the state; and serving as a catalyst for advancing ideas, partnerships and actions that create greater pathways to career opportunities for Nebraska’s current and future workforce.



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Culture & Entertainment For Young Nebraskans

Don't do things for image — Do things to make a difference.


Q&A with Selena Aguilar, Nebraska State Fair Entertainment Assistant and CYN Steering Team Member


Why are culture and entertainment important for young Nebraskans?

It is so important for young people in general to feel like they have a purpose and that they are a part of something. I think this becomes especially important as we look to recruit and retain young Nebraskans to our rural communities—we need these people to feel connected to their community and entertainment and culture are a great way to do that. They bridge gaps and prevent people from feeling like they are missing out on something out there. Entertainment brings people together in a positive way.


Why are you passionate about each one (culture and entertainment)?

I come from a mixed background and have seen a lot of cultures blended together. I think that all unique cultures should be celebrated, because it is part of what gives a person fulfillment. We, as people, pull influence for all different cultures in our daily lives.

Entertainment has always held a special place in my life. I’ve had a passion for music and theater since I was in grade school. There are so many embarrassing videos of me “performing.”

The sole purpose of my job is to make people happy—to make sure attendees enjoy their time. No matter how crazy it gets, it is pretty amazing to think about bringing people of all different backgrounds together, and everyone enjoying themselves.


How do you think culture and entertainment can be created and sustained for young Nebraskans?

I’d like to think I’m part of that effort at the state level with my role at the fair, but it really only does take one person in a community to make a difference. Through CYN we are working hard to build the types of leaders who will step up in their community. No matter what your goal is, there are plenty of people out there who are just as passionate as you but need the right connector. It may be as easy as stepping out of your comfort zone and stepping up to make it happen.

Hear Nebraska is a great example of this. Speaking close to home, Hear Grand Island (a branch of Hear Nebraska) is a weekly local concert series in our downtown area during the summer. It has provided a way to bring not only community but businesses together as well.

Festivals are a great way to create an environment of culture and entertainment as well, but I’d suggest more long-term plans for sustainability—something people can get involved with regularly, not one weekend or even day a year. A good rule of thumb is to keep intentions true—don’t do things for image, do them to make a difference.


How does diversity tie into culture and entertainment?

To summarize, diversity is an influencer of culture, and culture is an influencer of entertainment. Without different belief systems, rituals and traditions, there would be no culture. Entertainment of all kinds is a powerful form of expression. It pulls influence from our beliefs, traditions and feelings.


Why are you passionate about diversity?

Diversity should be celebrated! I would love to never stop learning. Diversity is the perfect opportunity to learn. Accept when others differ from you, learn about them and celebrate what makes you an individual. Life would be pretty boring if we just did the same old thing all time. I believe in immersing yourself in other people’s worlds, not to make them your own, but to celebrate individuality.


How can Nebraska celebrate diversity?

In order to celebrate diversity anywhere, not just Nebraska, there needs be a true, honest focus on a long-term sustainability. There’s too much focus on celebration by separation—celebrating a culture within a day for example. While some do not see it as a problem, here is my perspective: It can feel like you’re being told: “Here is your day. You get this day, and this day only, and then the rest of the year you sit back and be quiet about it.” Celebrations of diversity shouldn’t be confined or restrained.


How have your passions for culture, entertainment and diversity impacted your professional career?

My passions for culture, entertainment and diversity have 100 percent influenced my professional career. I’ve always wanted to do something for a living that makes me happy but it also had to be realistic. As happy as singing on stage every day of my life would make me, it isn’t exactly a reliable path to follow. I tried a lot of different things before I found the niche of event planning. In pursuing event planning, my passion for entertainment actually pulled me into my current opportunity. Now I’m able to help create a huge, 11-day experience in culture, diversity and entertainment. I don’t think anything that didn’t offer me the same opportunity to intersect all of these important aspects to me would hold my passion.



Selena Aguilar

Selena Aguilar

Entertainment Assistant | Nebraska State Fair
Join Selena on LinkedIn

Selena Aguilar is originally from Grand Island, Neb., where she returned after graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications in December 2016. Selena works as an entertainment assistant for the Nebraska State Fair, and serves as a member of the CYN Steering Team. She is passionate about fostering diversity and contributing to her community.



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What Meal Planning Can Do For You — And Nebraska

By Bradley Averill, Nebraska Extension Educator and CYN Steering Team Member


Nebraska Extension helps Nebraskans enhance their lives through research-based education. Food, Nutrition and Health include one of Nebraska Extension’s focus areas for educational programming. Delivering research and evidence based programming can have a significant impact on the health and well being for the people of Nebraska.

As an Extension Educator for Food, Nutrition and Health, my job is to increase the nutritional and physical literacy of Nebraskans. Using formal elements from my education—B.S. in Physical Education from Grand Valley State University and M.A. in Physical Education from the University of South Florida—and research from the University of Nebraska, it is my job to provide the most up-to-date information on how exercise and improved nutrition can improve the quality of your life.

Nebraska’s current obesity rate sits at 31%—14th highest obesity rate in the United States. As the chart below outlines, Millennials represent a lower obesity rate than other age groups.

Trust for America's Health and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The State of Obesity 2016 [PDF]. Washington D.C. 2016.


Before arranging a victory parade for having lower obesity rates than the other age groups, you might want to take another look at the chart to see your future. Obesity rates double between the ages of 26-44. There are many factors that could contribute to an increase in obesity as we age. Improved meal planning practices can have an significant impact on obesity rates, regardless of your age.


“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”
– Benjamin Franklin


Properly planned meal preparation can help both your waistline and your budget. Meal preparation means:

  • Food inventory
  • Recipe research
  • Grocery shopping
  • Cooking
  • Meal portioning
  • Storage

Most families do the cooking, portioning and storage on a daily basis, but with proper planning most of the cooking that you do all week long can be done in one day. Saving money, saving time, portion control and attaining fitness goals can all be achieved by preparing meals ahead of time.

By preparing your meals in advance, you are less likely to spend money outside of the home. Fewer trips to fast food locations or convenience stores can save you hundreds of dollars each year. A carefully thought out grocery list also keeps you from purchasing impulse foods that are not healthy or cost effective. Only purchasing food you need for the week will also save you from food waste.



  2. Bloom, American Wasteland, 187. The author reports a 15 percent loss in homes, with potentially an additional 10 percent loss in liquid products.



Not only does meal preparation save you money, but cooking your meals for the entire week in one day is a time saver. Two or three hours spent cooking and preparing on a Sunday, can alleviate the need to cook a meal the rest of the week. With this meal preparation plan, fixing nightly meals will only require you to reheat meals that have already been cooked. This allows more time to spend with your family, hit the gym or just relax instead of rushing home from work to prepare a meal during the week.

When you plan out and prepare your meals ahead of time, you take control of how much food you are consuming during each meal. It is important to remember that each of our bodies require different amounts of food and nutrients. For this reason, make sure that your portions are rationed properly for each member of your family. To find out how many calories you should be consuming every day, consult your physician.

Proper nutrition is just as important to a healthy lifestyle as exercise. There is an old saying that states, “abs are made in the kitchen.” There is a lot of truth to this phrase. Your body requires healthy food for endurance, strength and weight loss. With your meals properly planned and portioned, it is easier to include foods that give you energy (whole grains), muscle building proteins (lean meats and nuts) and vitamins and minerals (fruits and vegetables).

To prevent food waste and to test the feasibility of weekly food planning for your family, it may be best to cook twice per week instead of once per week initially. This will help with the identification of proper food storage needs, as well as the nutritional needs of your family.

I would love to hear how your family prepares meals. Do you go grocery shopping once per month or once per week? Do you prepare each meal individually every day? Share your meal preparation ideas with your fellow CYNers on Facebook or Twitter.



Bradley Averill

Bradley Averill

Food, Nutrition, and Health Educator | Nebraska Extension

Bradley Averill is the University of Nebraska Extension Educator for Food, Nutrition, and Health. He grew up in Holt, Michigan, and currently resides in Neligh, Neb. He pursued his undergraduate degree at Grand Valley State University and attended graduate school at the University of South Florida. He believes that Connecting Young Nebraskans (CYN) can bring together young talents from all across the state and allow young professionals to network with peers of different backgrounds.



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The Power of Positivity and Volunteerism


Q&A with Chelsea Luthy, Central Nebraska Community Development Specialist, and CYN Steering Team Member


Why are you passionate about volunteerism?

Cody is a village of about 150 people, but it’s so much more than that. I have a soft spot for the people from my hometown and surrounding areas, because they collectively taught me throughout my life that I can make a difference even if it is on a small scale. Overall, my community has given and taught me so much that I feel the need to try to show my gratitude by volunteering as best as I can.

This rural lifestyle is the key reason we moved back after college, and it is how I want to raise my children. Two of my goals are to teach AND show them that we can make a difference.


Why is positivity so important in both volunteerism and volunteer management?

Positivity is a crucial factor in preventing burnout, which is something we want to avoid. It seems like the same volunteers are enlisted over and over again, while others are sometimes missed altogether—which can contribute to burnout. In my opinion, leaders of the volunteer efforts have to keep a positive attitude and be understanding of the volunteers’ limitations, like time and energy, and always keep the end goal in mind. These characteristics will trickle down to other volunteers and raise moral.


Based on your experiences, how can age affect the perspective of volunteers?

Cody is well-known for its student-run straw bale grocery store the Circle C Market. (Check it out if you haven’t already!) I was an enthusiastic high school youth working on the planning process for the grocery store. Then, after moving back home, I was the Executive Director of a non-profit called Cowboy GRIT, working on a new project from scratch. Now, I work in multiple communities across 14 counties with numerous volunteers and collaborations.

I’ve worked with volunteers of all ages, and what I’ve learned is that nothing keeps you excited quite the same as having child-like enthusiasm, staying focused with a big picture always in the front of your mind and always working to stay positive.


How can one stay positive and motivate others?

For me, the best ways to stay positive are by de-stressing, disconnecting and remembering the big picture. I like to work out, knit, play with my kids and go dancing! I keep my mind occupied with family things to de-stress.

Another way I can stay positive is to disconnect from work on weekends as much as I can to relax.

The final way is to always remember the big picture or the end result, instead of getting caught up in the means of getting there. Motivating others is best achieved through excitement, leadership and communication. Fold those three together for a great start.


Why is volunteerism important for rural Nebraska?

Volunteering and working together are the future for rural Nebraska. No one can accomplish anything great by themselves. Instead we have to work together and learn from each other. That’s how we are going to get or keep our communities moving forward. No one outside a community can create change and progress like catalysts inside a community can. Insiders already have the relationships in place to rock ‘n roll! Your input also goes further if you have boots on the ground in a project.


What would you say to youth or adults who want to get involved in their communities but doesn’t know how?

The best piece of advice I know is to ask. Ask community and civic groups, government bodies, schools, parents, co-workers, friends or mentors what they believe should be improved. Everyone has an opinion on something. Gather ideas. Take one that interests you or a topic you are passionate about and expand on it. Perhaps there is someone else who shares your passion, and you can move forward together. This is the best place to start.

Undoubtedly, there will be obstacles and roadblocks, but they don’t have to stall you. I applaud you for having courage and grit. Remember that volunteering with positivity can make a difference for both you and your community, and that the Connecting Young Nebraskans community is always available for support!



Chelsea Luthy

Chelsea Luthy

Community Development Specialist | Central Nebraska Economic Development District
Join Chelsea on LinkedIn

Chelsea Luthy is the Community Development Specialist for Central Nebraska Economic Development District (CNEDD). She grew up in Cody, Neb., and graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She hopes to share her love for community improvement through Connecting Young Nebraskans (CYN) and influence her peers to continue making a difference in our work. She believes that CYN is about motivating our young people, facilitating progress within our local community and how that creates additional impacts, and a way to bounce ideas off other like-minded leaders all for the betterment of our state.



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3 Ps of Successful Community & Economic Development: Purpose, Perseverance & Positivity


By Megan McGown, North Platte Area Chamber & Development Corp. VP of Economic Development & Marketing
I have served in the realm of economic and community development in our fine state for most of my adult life. While it has been my paid gig these past 10 years, I have come to realize that it takes everyone in the community to be successful—not just those of us who serve in paid positions. It takes people from all walks of life, every age demographic, varying ethnicities, men, women and children. Sound cliché? Maybe, but imagine everyone in your community being on the same page, promoting the same great things about your town. Young people hearing about those great things and picturing themselves living in and raising their family in their hometown – your town. That’s a cliché I can live with any day of the week.

I spent most of my economic development career working in Sidney for both the Chamber of Commerce as well as a position with the city. Two years ago, my family and I relocated, and I currently serve as the Vice President of Economic Development and Marketing for the North Platte Chamber & Development Corporation.

I grew up in a very rural area – aka: the middle of the Sandhills – and currently reside in the Village of Brady, population 432. In spite of the varying differences amongst the places that I have lived, I have noticed recurring themes among the most successful community and economic development programs: Purposefulness, Perseverance and Positivity.


This one should go without saying, but I’m going to talk about it anyway, because not all development is good development, and not every project will fit in every community. Purpose requires extensive research, knowing your community and keeping up-to-date on trends.

• Look at the strengths of your community in terms of location, demographics, infrastructure, workforce characteristics and training programs.
• Identify cluster and supply chain opportunities.
• Talk with residents and stakeholders about their vision, needs and wants (but be careful with that last one).

Being able to see the big picture is crucial. Do the ideas on the list make sense for your community? Are they feasible? What would it take to make them feasible? Are your local incentive programs aligned with your goals? Being purposeful may not save time, but it has a much higher chance of producing a successful outcome.


There is a lot of trial and error in community and economic development. Not everything is going to work the first time. The fact is that economic developers work just as hard on the projects that never materialize as they do the ones that become successful. We go all-in on each RFP that the state sends us (provided it meets the Purposeful test). You never know when you will hit a home run. The ability to persevere in your efforts and adapt to new circumstances will set successful communities and programs apart.


We all know there is power in positive thinking, but I’m sure you’re thinking: “What does that have to do with economic development?” Positivity and negativity are both contagious—which would you rather catch?

In my college dorm room, my roommate and I made our own wallpaper border that repeated the phrase, “the power of positive thinking,” over and over all around the room. The phrase was a daily reminder to look on the bright side, find the silver lining—you name the cliché. But it helped.

This same mentality carries into the realm of economic and community development. Negativity kills projects before they start. Whether that is the “coffee shop talk,” a negative political climate or some other form of negativity, it can derail various aspects of the process.

Now, I could definitely add more Ps to my list: partnerships, planning, passion, patience, etc. But I have to leave something for my next post!



How do you or can you implement today’s three Ps in the community and economic development of your town?

How have you gotten involved in your community’s development efforts?



Megan McGown

Megan McGown

VP of Economic Development & Marketing | North Platte Area Chamber & Development Corp.
Join Megan on LinkedIn
and Twitter

Megan has been in the field of economic development for more than 10 years. She holds a Master’s Degree in Organization Management emphasizing economic development and entrepreneurship. She currently serves as the Vice President of Economic Development and Marketing for the North Platte Area Chamber and Development Corporation.

In addition to economic development, Megan has a passion for downtown revitalization and served as the director of a local Main Street Program for 10 years, earning the community national accreditation the majority of those years. She is a mom of two daughters, wife to a school superintendent and avid runner/wellness nut.



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Millennial Game Changers: A Part of Something Bigger



By Brittnay Dawson, Norfolk Area Chamber Director of Talent Development & Recruitment

We hear it all the time. The talk about specific individuals doing momentous things that are challenging and inspire the way we live and think—and in a really big way.

Millennials often get a bad rap for challenging the status quo on not only how we live, but also in the workplace. This generation, now the largest generation in the workforce, has decided to not just play the game, but change the way the game is played.

Traditionalists may have difficulty adjusting to this shift in mindset, but no matter if you prefer to keep things the way they once were or you are embracing this new mentality, these “game changers” are strong leaders and can bring immense value to your organization.

What defines a game changer? Here are a few commonalities you often will find:


They have the heart of a lion.

Game changers are fearless and exceptionally courageous. They often have a strong personality and are the driving force within their organizations. They are not afraid to take risks or tackle challenges head on, because on the other side of fear is freedom and opportunity. This mentality helps them break down barriers in communities and in the workplace, opening up new possibilities in creating change.


They have their head in the game.

Like the mindset of an athlete, game changers know that working toward their vision and goals will require continuous training. This training is not only with their body, but also with their mind. They create a strategy toward achieving goals within their long-term vision, but also adapt to change when necessary because their focus is strong. Every day they are working on their strong game, gaining new skills and knowledge, and becoming better players.


They are really good at failing.

A true game changer knows there is much to be gained from failure. Failure not only creates new opportunities to grow, but it also allows new levels of creativity and teaches how to overcome adversity. Being really good at failing means seeing the bigger picture and practicing resilience and perseverance. Game changers are open to the journey, because in those critical ¬moments often is where the biggest opportunities exist to think big and reach maximum potential.


They overcome obstacles.

In both life and business, there will always be roadblocks to some degree. A game changer does not give up and just turn back around. They look for new paths to get to their destination, or in some cases, pave their own way. They understand the depth of certain obstacles is based on their own perception, but also to accept those that are outside of their own control. Game changers become excellent problem-solvers in adverse situations and use big thinking for out-of-the-box solutions.


They don’t make excuses.

Game changers are very self-aware and willing to accept responsibility for their actions and situations. They are committed to their decisions, but do not blame others when they do not receive their desired results. Having the ability to admit mistakes and make the necessary changes can help their teams and organizations progress toward their goals.


They are a part of something bigger.

Many people desire to have meaning and purpose in their lives and work. Game changers are the living example of this mentality. They work hard every day to be a part of something big, creating a force far bigger than they could achieve by themselves. They know the power of being engaged in their work, life and community. What they do and say does matter, and it does have impact. They are willing to step up to the plate for the greater good.

Overall, game changers are the people who are natural leaders, avid problem-solvers, and they inspire meaningful change. They are innovators and creators, and often see things that others do not. They are what can take organizations from ordinary to exceptional, and are continually shaping a new reality and way of living in this world.

Millennial game changers take it one step further, as they also grew up with a new wave of technological advancements and diversity acceptance. More than ever, this generation is motivated to build powerful movements, and they have the resources to help them spread their message and ideas.



In what ways are you a game changer? Share with us some actionable steps you are taking to change the game in your life or place of work.



Brittany Dawson

Brittnay Dawson

Director of Talent Development & Recruitment | Norfolk Area Chamber of Commerce
Connect with Norfolk Now on Facebook & Instagram.

Brittnay Dawson attended the University of Nebraska–Lincoln where she received her BA in Psychology, focusing on advertising and public relations. Following graduation, she launched her own photography and marketing business in Destin, Florida, working with small businesses on their image branding and digital marketing content. Brittnay has worked for national clients including the New Balance line for Heidi Klum (HKNB) and Rachele Brooke Smith. She is currently a monthly contributor to JMG Lifestyle, a millennials and entrepreneurs resource magazine.

Back in Nebraska, Brittnay is the Director of Talent Development & Recruitment for the Norfolk Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Program Director for Norfolk Now where she works to attract other young professionals and families to the Norfolk area.




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Hosting RFI Serviceship



By Tina Biteghe Bi Ndong, West Point Chamber of Commerce
This summer the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska partnered with 31 organizations to send 10 student interns into rural communities for nine-week “serviceships,” or service internships. Projects the students worked on varied greatly depending on the needs of each host community; however, the ultimate goal of each serviceship was to make a positive, quantifiable impact for rural.

Tina Biteghe Bi Ndong served on the West Point, Neb., host team. For more information about the 2017 West Point Serviceship, check out Amber and Madeleine’s story.


How did the Serviceship students’ work help you achieve your strategic goals for the future of your community?

Two of our main goals were related to our recent influx of young families that have moved to West Point. The work done through the Serviceship project created a foundation for programs that will hopefully engage, retain and recruit additional young professionals and their families.


How did the University of Nebraska contribute to your community’s goals through this program?

They offered support for our community branding goal. We tapped into the Engler Entrepreneurship program for a project outside of the outlined goals. We are also looking to a Nebraska Extension program as a partner for our proposed leadership program.


Shortly after the interns arrived in West Point, we hosted a BRAN Snack Shop.


Why do you think it is important for communities to give students this experience?

Madeleine and Amber had been involved in community and organizational projects through school and other organizations prior to their Serviceship, but every community functions differently. We were able to share how West Point approaches projects and goals, and hopefully they can use those experiences in the future as they pursue personal and professional goals.


How did hosting RFI Serviceship students bring value to the West Point Chamber?

Utilizing the RFI Serviceship program versus hiring a consultant group, first and foremost, reduced the cost of achieving our goals, but secondly gave greater value to the results. The students were engaged in the community, so I feel that they had greater, and more candid, conversations with area residents and business owners.

A byproduct of having the students working with the West Point Chamber was the positive PR that our office received. They were constantly doing something in the community, which gained a lot of local media attention. We are constantly working on community projects, but they brought another level of engagement to the projects.


How did being on the RFI Host Team develop you as a young professional?

Being a part of the host team, I felt it was important not only to focus on the goals that were outlined in our application, but to make sure that the students were able to really connect with our community in a very short amount of time. It was a good reminder that we need to give other “newbies” that same attention and share our passion for West Point with everyone.


Amber had a great time bonding with my kiddos. This is them at the Sights & Sounds festival––an event they hosted in West Point right before they left at the end of their serviceship.




Tina Biteghe Bi Ndong

Executive Director | West Point Chamber of Commerce

I was born in Iowa, moved to Nebraska as an elementary student, and spent many childhood summers in Minnesota. I consider myself a Midwestern girl with Midwestern values. When I am not busy connecting businesses, people and resources—which are interchangeable on any given day—I enjoy traveling and spending time with my husband and our children doing home and craft projects.




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Leadership Skills: Being A Doer To Become A Leader



By Walker Zulkoski, Executive Director of Gage Area Growth Enterprise (NGage)
I’ve never considered myself a “leader.” My philosophy has always been to do and steer. Meeting gets out of hand; get it back on point. People are complaining about a constant problem; address said problem. I don’t do these things because I think of myself as a leader. I do them because I only have so much time and energy—and to sit in a meeting talking about the same thing over and over again is a waste. My thoughts turn to, “Let’s get things done and move on to the next project.”

If you are in that stage of life where you work hard, you produce, people count on you and you consistently think of the next idea, then you, like so many of us, are in this state of leadership purgatory.

Many of us with this mindset are at the same point. Millennials are reaching the stage in their careers at which they master their trade and naturally begin to find new ways of accomplishing tasks more efficiently and effectively. Rather than buckle down and work harder, we step back, analyze and work smarter. We spend more time planning, listening, navigating and dreaming—knowing that we can’t do it all and that we must allow others to conquer the task with their own skills. It’s important to act on these ideas, take note of the outcomes and understand that these activities are creating future leaders.

When we do take on these initial leadership roles, we don’t completely move on, and that’s fine. As Charlette Beers describes in her article, The Three Stages of Your Career, “No one is a leader all the time,” tackling a leadership role when we need to and then reverting back to being a doer is a natural cycle. The idea doesn’t have to be something earth-shattering that turns your entire business upside down. Simple changes or projects can get you the same experience and give you the confidence to do it again.


“When the new idea comes to you, run with it.
Step out of your comfort zone, take a risk and lead the charge.”


When the new idea comes to you, run with it. Step out of your comfort zone, take a risk and lead the charge. Then go back to being a doer and think of the next idea you want to act on. The more times you do this, the more experience you gain.

Document your experience. Reflect on it to understand what did and did not work. How would you change your approach? Take your experience, and turn it into an elevator pitch. Nobody will remember that you did a good job unless you tell them. The more projects and charges you lead will add to your toolbox of knowledge and make you better the next time. Let these experiences mold you into the leader you aspire to become. It’s a never-ending process, but it needs to start now. Take your idea and run with it then go back to being a doer and think of the next one.



What will you do to define the future?



Walker Zulkoski

Walker Zulkoski

Executive Director | Gage Area Growth Enterprise (NGage)
Connect with Walker on LinkedIn & Facebook.

Walker Zulkoski is the Executive Director of Gage Area Growth Enterprise (NGage) in Beatrice, NE. Originally from Ord, Nebraska, his mission is to help rural Nebraska prosper. Walker is a graduate of the State Chamber’s Leadership Nebraska class, the RFI Leadership Development Program, Leadership Beatrice, and is currently a member of the Sherwood Foundation’s Catalyst class. He holds a bachelor degree from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, a Master Certificate from Villanova University, and an MBA from Nebraska Wesleyan.




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The Student Side of “Serviceship”



By Emily Coffey, 2017 RFI Serviceship Intern & Current Serviceship Ambassador

In August, RFI wrapped up its fifth year of summer RFI Student Serviceship. This year’s interns lived in McCook, North Platte, West Point and York, working on major projects spanning economic development, workforce recruitment and retention, environmental impact and healthcare. Senior political science major Emily Coffey was placed in York, Nebraska. Below she shares some of her perspectives on the Serviceship experience.

My Serviceship partner and I were able to impact the sustainability and vitality of our rural community by gathering a variety of data that was pertinent to the economic development bill we were working to form and promote. We listened to the ideas and concerns of community leaders, applied critical analysis to their comments and the data we collected and spoke with state experts to determine legal, marketing and implementation strategies. We are confident that the service we provided to our community will help to strengthen their economic development, and we are optimistic that the bill will be successful in the upcoming election.

Beyond the scope of the projects we were assigned, we made a conscious effort to immerse ourselves in the culture of our community. We attended York’s Young Professionals events and played on their sand volleyball team. We also visited the weekly farmer’s markets and worked out at the community wellness center. We shopped locally, attended plays at the Yorkshire Playhouse and even lived with a York resident for the entirety of the summer. By becoming members of the community we were able to gain a better understanding of how our projects would affect it.


What connections were you able to make?

Our host team members were not only invested in the projects they gave us, but in our personal and professional development as well. They encouraged us to attend community and professional events and connected us with individuals and businesses within the community that were relevant to our future goals. As someone who aspires to go to law school, I was very appreciative of the opportunity to meet and network with a number of people in legal professions and reach a better understanding of their roles in a rural community. My favorite experience was an afternoon spent shadowing the County Attorney, attending hearings and discussing the rewards and challenges of his position.

Emily Coffey and partner Shelby Riggs checking out the York Community with some Red Beard’s Coffee.

How did your Serviceship impact you?

Through the course of my serviceship, I learned to advocate for myself and my ideas. In other internships, I’ve been assigned duties and projects with minimal autonomy or room for innovation. This experience allowed me to think critically about the projects I was assigned, identify the people I needed to connect with, determine the necessary steps in reaching solutions and take ownership of the project to make it my own. At one point, I faced the challenge of facilitating a discussion with a group of community leaders on a very controversial topic. The advice and support of my RFI mentors and host team empowered me to lead the conversation with confidence. This experience has given me a firm foundation for navigating similar situations in the future.

Furthermore, I really appreciate the “service” component of the serviceship experience. Volunteering in York gave me an additional level of investment in the community and helped me to become more in-tune with their way of life; I became more acutely aware of the importance and impact of active community members who give their time and efforts and are dedicated to the happiness and success of their community. On college campuses there are opportunities to get involved and volunteer everywhere you look; but when you have a full-time job and are new to an area, you have to be much more intentional about service.



Emily Coffey

Serviceship Ambassador | Rural Futures Institute

Emily Coffey is a senior Political Science student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, with minors in Business, Psychology, Communication Studies, and Global Studies. Following graduation, she plans to attend law school and hopes to stay in Nebraska long-term.




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Young Nebraskans Week

Young Nebraskans Week


Originally published by Greater Omaha Young Professionals

Allison Hatch, Nebraska Department of Economic Development
Kayla Schnuelle,
Rural Futures Institute
Tom Beckius, Keith Peterson, Jaime Henning & Kayla Meyer,
Lincoln’s Young Professionals Group
Luke Hoffman,
Greater Omaha Chamber Young Professionals


The face of young American workers, their jobs and where they work is changing.


By 2018, employers will see as many as five generations working side by side. More than 60 million baby boomers will exit the workforce, and by 2025, only 40 million new workers will enter to replace them. Advancements in technology will help elevate some labor shortages but not in all sectors. Estimates suggest millennials could make up as much as 75% of the U.S. workforce by 2025.

Young workers today are more likely to be underemployed, earning less, living at home with their parents, delaying marriage and dependent on technology. They are less likely to be affiliated with a political party and connected to religion.

Here is what we also know. Today’s young workers are highly engaged with their work. Additionally, the jobs of today’s young workers are more mobile than they have been for any other generation. Good jobs can be as easy to locate as a good internet connection, whether you are in Albion or Atlanta, McCook or Miami, Lexington or London. As the mobility of jobs continues to increase, communities must ask how they can become more attractive to young workers. Community vibrancy is an ever-increasing factor in today’s job marketplace as workers can often choose from where they work instead of simply locating to where jobs are located.

The attraction, retention and development of young workers is vitally important for communities hoping to remain relevant in the rapidly expanding and diversified economy of the 21st Century. It is with this focus in mind that community leaders across the state of Nebraska have developed strategies to target this talent pool through attraction and retention efforts, including a specific priority to ask young workers what the community can do to make it more attractive as a place to live and work.


Yet, no one community knows all the best practices in attraction, retention and development of young talent, and leaders and communities are constantly faced with limited resources.


Yet, no one community knows all the best practices in attraction, retention and development of young talent, and leaders and communities are constantly faced with limited resources. As such, a concerted statewide coalition of leaders working together, sharing best practices and resources across the state, to focus the spotlight on young talent and vibrant communities together is the next step in making sure we are at the forefront for young workers.

Young Nebraskans Week will be a carefully curated series of speakers, discussion panels, workshops and networking opportunities hosted by communities across the state that celebrate the talent, insight and energy of young professionals working in Nebraska while also exploring the intersection between cultures and cities. Developed by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development and modeled after Lincoln’s Young Professionals Group’s annual YP Week, Young Nebraskans Week aims to concentrate our state’s focus on growing, retaining and developing our youngest members of the workforce. We know that highlighting the best of what Nebraska offers is how we win the fight for young talent and helps to keep Nebraska prosperous.


Collaboration is the new competition.


As we launch Young Nebraskans Week in 2018, we will be working throughout the state with local partners to create a dynamic environment focused on young workers. We will call upon industry, labor, chambers of commerce, economic development partners and many others to help make this initiative as strong as possible. We ask every Nebraskan to join our coalition in the fight to attract and retain young workers to our state. Collaboration is the new competition.



Kayla Schnuelle

Kayla Schnuelle

Leadership Engagement Director & Network Weaver | Rural Futures Institute

Kayla Schnuelle directs the RFI Student Serviceship program, coordinates the state-wide network of young professionals, Connecting Young Nebraskans, and offers her expertise in facilitation and leadership throughout many of RFI’s initiatives.

She has developed a deep understanding of the opportunities and trials that young professionals are finding in rural places. With an immense support network in place, Kayla has coordinated three statewide summits and has assisted in planning two national Rural Futures Institute Conferences.



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