Nebraska Thriving Index

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!

Interactive Comparison Tool

Projects from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Bureau of Business Research (Bureau) have bench-marked economic growth and resources in the state’s two largest metropolitan areas — Lincoln, Neb., and Omaha, Neb. Research into the sources of growth has examined how growth is influenced by amenities enjoyed by both business and households and linkages between industries located throughout the state.

Now, the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska (NU) has convened and funded an expanded research team of faculty and students from the Bureau, the University of Nebraska at Kearney and Nebraska Extension Community Vitality Initiative to bring this analysis to all regions of Nebraska.

Upcoming Presentations

Buffett Early Childhood Thriving Children, Families & Communities
September 16, 2019
Presenter: Eric Thompson
3 p.m.
Younes Conference Center
416 Talmadge Street
Kearney, Neb.

Tri-City Area Economic Forum
October 11, 2019
Presenters: Bree Dority & Mitch Herian
Morning (exact time TBA)
Archway Conference Room
Kearney, Neb.

Bureau of Business Research
October 18, 2019 | 12 – 1 pm
Presenter: Mitch Herian

Nebraska Chamber Economic Development Summit
November 7, 2019 | 1pm
Panelist: Eric Thompson
Embassy Suites Hotel
1040 P Street
Lincoln, Neb.

Nebraska Regions

One of the first steps in developing the Nebraska Thriving Index was to ensure Nebraska regions were defined in a way that recognized existing regional boundaries, while also considering current and future trends in the state. To do this, NU researchers with advanced knowledge of the state considered existing regional categorizations such as:

Using these regional assignments as a starting point, the team developed nine regions: eight rural regions and one non-rural region that included the seven counties included in Nebraska’s two largest metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). The final regional classifications were largely driven by researchers’ understanding of current commuting patterns between counties, as well as an understanding of current population trends.

The state’s major metropolitan areas, Omaha and Lincoln, were purposefully not included since they already have indicator reports — Omaha Barometer and the Lincoln Economic Dashboard. A report documenting the economic impact of rural businesses on metropolitan area economies will be provided by Spring 2020.

The research team is currently requesting stakeholder feedback about the appropriateness of the regional designations.

North 81
Madison, Pierce, Platte and Stanton

Antelope, Boone, Burt, Cedar, Colfax, Cuming, Dodge, Knox, Nance, Thurston and Wayne

Banner, Box Butte, Cheyenne, Dawes, Deuel, Garden, Kimball, Morrill, Scottsbluff, Sheridan and Sioux

Blaine, Boyd, Brown, Cherry, Custer, Garfield, Grant, Greeley, Holt, Hooker, Keya Paha, Loup, Rock, Thomas, Valley and Wheeler

Dakota and Dixon

Butler, Fillmore, Gage, Jefferson, Johnson, Nemaha, Otoe, Pawnee, Polk, Richardson, Saline, Thayer and York

Arthur, Chase, Dawson, Dundy, Frontier, Furnas, Gosper, Hayes, Hitchcock, Keith, Lincoln, Logan, McPherson, Perkins and Red Willow

Adams, Buffalo, Clay, Franklin, Hall, Hamilton, Harlan, Howard, Kearney, Merrick, Nuckolls, Phelps, Sherman and Webster

Comparison Regions

The research team identified relevant comparison regions against which Nebraska regions could benchmark. The regions selected were the most similar to each of the eight Nebraska regions identified; comparison regions might be in Nebraska or in another state in the region.

In total, the team considered 85 regions located in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming. Outside of Nebraska, USDA Economic Development Administration regions were utilized.

Review Comparison Regions


Data of all measures for each of the eight indexes is referenced throughout the full report and available in the following appendices document.


Ultimate Deliverables

Thriving Index for rural regions of Nebraska for use by local and state leaders. This page!

Delivery online and in print Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021

Regional growth model — linking quality of life factors to rural growth — for use by communities throughout Nebraska. Research evaluates how quality of life and amenity factors influence growth in per capita income, employment and population in U.S. counties. The research also will shed light on the potential for promoting entrepreneurial capacity as an economic development strategy with positive payoffs in remote regions.

Delivery Spring 2020

Measure the influence of business activity in rural Nebraska on employment in the Nebraska metropolitan areas of Lincoln and Omaha, utilizing the inter-regional feature of the IMPLAN model, an economic impact analysis tool for planning. The model will measure how rural manufacturing, agriculture, tourism and other key industries create jobs and business activity throughout the state.

Delivery Spring 2020

Engaging the RFI Nexus

In true RFI Nexus fashion, through the development of this project, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Bureau of Business Research has expanded undergraduate research opportunities in business and economics with the Bureau Scholars program during the 2018-19 academic year. The University of Nebraska at Kearney has also established a research assistant position, and the project team has been requesting and receiving critical local community feedback, which it is still encouraging.


Project Contributors

The project is administered by Kim Peterson, RFI Director of Competitive Awards & Finance. It is communicated by Katelyn Ideus, RFI Director of Communications & PR, with asset development by Lauren Simonsen.