Nebraska Thriving Index

The Nebraska Thriving Index provides economic developers, local elected officials and community leaders with economic and quality of life indicators to identify thriving and lagging regions so strategic, future-focused investments can be made.

Recent projects from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Bureau of Business Research 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 from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, the University of Nebraska at Kearney and Nebraska Extension Community Vitality Initiative to bring this analysis to all regions of Nebraska.

The full initial report is expected to be delivered online here and in print in Summer 2019 with subsequent reports out in Spring 2020. Funding to sustain this work is a top priority. Everything that is available now is provided throughout this site and feedback is appreciated — sign up here!

Ultimately, the goal is to provide community and state leaders with the ability to compare Nebraska regions with like peers located primarily in other states to better understand where a particular region excels or lags and to create action where needed.

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

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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

Draft Interactive Application

Ultimate Deliverables

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

Delivery online and in print Summer 2019 & Spring 2020

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 Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., RFI Interim Executive Director and Chief Futurist, coordinated by RFI’s Kim Peterson and communicated by Katelyn Ideus, RFI Director of Communications & PR, with asset development by Lauren Simonsen and Kara Sloane.