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

Introduction

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. Now, the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska (NU) has convened and funded an expanded research team to bring this analysis to all regions of Nebraska.

Report & Tutorial

The Nebraska Thriving Index consists of an annual print report and an annually updated online interactive comparison tool (above). The report provides context and general summaries of patterns and trends. The interactive comparison tool puts the data into the hands of local and state leaders, allowing them to explore and access data in an efficient, action-oriented way.

Provide Insights & Feedback!
Download 2019 Report


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

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

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

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

Siouxland
Dakota and Dixon

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

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

Tri-Cities
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

Appendices

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

Appendices

Insight Articles

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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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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Nebraska Thriving Index Insights: Southwest Region

November 21, 2019
Today we’re focusing on the Southwest region of the Nebraska Thriving Index by continuing to dig into the measures that comprise the overall indexes. The Southwest region has the lowest overall thriving index at 95 and ranks fifth among seven …

Today we’re focusing on the Southwest region of the Nebraska Thriving Index by continuing to dig into the measures that comprise the overall indexes. The Southwest region has the lowest overall thriving index at 95 and ranks fifth among seven peers overall.

However, drilling down via the online interactive tool, we find that the Southwest outpaces its peer regions in the Quality of Life Index, ranking first for the measures:

  • Commute times (lowest among peers)
  • Age of housing stock (youngest among peers)
  • Access to arts and recreation opportunities

Also, the Southwest ranks second among its peer for the overall Infrastructure and Cost of Doing Business Index, as well as, for the Social Capital Index, including first for the measures:

  • Interstate access
  • Income tax rate advantage
  • Volunteer hours per resident
  • Share of Tree City USA counties

The areas of concern for the Southwest region primarily deal with the labor resources of the region. The Southwest region not only ranks last among peers in the overall Education & Skills Index but ranks low in the Demographic Growth & Renewal Index and Other Prosperity Index (5th of 7 for both). These indexes include measures of the population – or the pipeline of workers – and the quantity and quality of workers in the labor force. Drilling down into these, we see the region ranks significantly lower than peers on:

  • Labor force participation rates (5th of 7)
  • High school and college attainment rates (6th of 7)
  • Percent knowledge workers (6th of 7)
  • Growth in the share of Millennials and Generation Z (5th of 7)
  • Median age and life span (5th of 7)
  • Share of income from wealth (dividend, interest, and rent income; ranks last)

Overall, the Southwest region has workforce and workforce-related issues that appear to be affecting the economic performance of the region. The Southwest region may want to prioritize workforce development initiatives such as:

  • Enhancing awareness about innovative recruitment and retention practices in non-metro areas
  • Facilitating collaboration among strategic partners to address education, training, and workforce development needs of the regional business community
  • Identifying and reducing barriers to full labor participation

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: Tri-Cities Region

November 13, 2019
To continue digging into the details of the Nebraska Thriving Index, let’s focus next on the Tri-Cities region, which has the second highest thriving index at 136 and ranks first among its peers overall. Using the online interactive tool, we …

To continue digging into the details of the Nebraska Thriving Index, let’s focus next on the Tri-Cities region, which has the second highest thriving index at 136 and ranks first among its peers overall.

Using the online interactive tool, we find the Tri-Cities outpaces its peer regions in the Growth Index, ranking:

  • 1st in returns on wealth (dividends, interest, and rent income)
  • 2nd in growth in households with children

The Tri-Cities also ranks first among its peers for the overall Economic Opportunity & Diversity, including first for the entrepreneurial environment measures:

  • Entrepreneurial activity
  • Employer establishments per 1,000 residents

Also, the Tri-Cities ranks first for many aspects of quality of life, including:

  • Commute times (lowest)
  • Natural climate and recreation amenities
  • Designated national monuments and sites
  • Access to daycare providers

The region does, however, face some challenges. Its lowest ranking is fifth of seven peers in the Education & Skills Index. Drilling down into this, we see that although the Tri-Cities has healthy labor force participation rates, the region ranks significantly lower than peer regions for the measures:

  • College attainment rate (4th of 7)
  • High school attainment rate (5th of 7)
  • Percent knowledge workers (5th of 7)

This indicates that relative to its peers, the Tri-Cities region has difficulty attracting and retaining high-skill workers. 

The Tri-Cities region may want to prioritize workforce development initiatives such as:

  • Enhancing awareness about innovative recruitment and retention practices in non-metro and small metro areas
  • Facilitating collaboration among strategic partners to address education, training, and workforce development needs of the regional business community

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: Panhandle Region

November 4, 2019
Next up in our exploration of the insights from the Nebraska Thriving Index — the Panhandle region of Banner, Box Butte, Cheyenne, Dawes, Deuel, Garden, Kimball, Morrill, Scottsbluff, Sheridan and Sioux counties. With a Nebraska Thriving Index value of 98, …
Nebraska Thriving Index Panhandle Region, Garden County

Next up in our exploration of the insights from the Nebraska Thriving Index — the Panhandle region of Banner, Box Butte, Cheyenne, Dawes, Deuel, Garden, Kimball, Morrill, Scottsbluff, Sheridan and Sioux counties.

With a Nebraska Thriving Index value of 98, the Panhandle region ranks just below the peer average of 100, but third among its six peer regions, which are listed in the full print report.

This “average” ranking masks several areas of strength and weakness.

The region is an entrepreneurial place that values education and offers a diverse pool of work opportunities. These features allow the Panhandle region to have a resilient economy, which is explicitly expressed through a first-place ranking in the Economic Opportunity & Diversity Index.

Using the interactive online tool, users can drill down into the region’s rankings among its peers for each of the measures that comprise this index:

  • 1st in industrial diversity
  • 1st in telecommuters
  • 1st in occupational diversity
  • 1st (tied) for businesses per 1,000 residents
  • 2nd in entreprenial activity per 1,000 people
  • 4th in percent of workers  in non-employer establishment
  • 4th in non-farm proprietors per 1,000 persons

Despite the opportunities, the Panhandle region lags in terms of economic and demographic growth.

Compared to its six peer regions, in the Growth Index the Panhandle ranks last in total employment growth and private employment. The following are its rankings in the other growth index measures, all of which are over the 2014 – 2017 timeframe:

  • 5th in private wage growth
  • 5th in growth in households with children
  • 6th in dividend, interest and rent income growth

As for the Demographic Growth & Renewal Index, the Panhandle ranks fourth and well below the peer average for all of the measures comprising this index:

  • 2nd in percent of population that is Hispanic
  • 4th in Millennial and Gen Z balance change
  • 4th in median age
  • 4th in percent of population that is non-white
  • 5th in long-run population growth (growth in the population over the last 17 years)
  • 5th in the dependency ratio (share of the population below the age of 18 and over the age of 65)

The Panhandle region can work to improve its fundamental economic conditions to encourage economic and demographic growth, while preserving its entrepreneurial culture. Specific steps may include:

  • Build on existing strengths in the Education & Skills Index by encouraging more residents to pursue certificates and community college degrees, which have value in the labor market, and help more young people complete high school.
  • Harness the region’s entrepreneurial strength to further enhance service, retail and entertainment options.
  • Improve highway infrastructure in the region.
  • Improve access to health care practitioners.
  • Grow “workforce housing” or take other steps to modernize the housing stock.

The other Indexes and their rankings for the Panhandle region include:

  • 3rd in Education & Skill Index: education attainment, labor force participation and employment in knowledge-based occupations
  • 3rd in Infrastructure & Cost of Doing Business Index: broadband internet access, presence of interstate, count of 4-year colleges, weekly wage rate, top marginal income tax rate, count of qualified opportunity zones
  • 3rd in Quality of Life Index: commute time, percent of housing built pre-1950, relative weekly wage rate, violent crime rate, property crime rate, natural amenities, health care access (practitioners per capita), daycare providers per capita, count of parks (state, local, national), people per arts and rec worker
  • 4th in Social Capital Index: number of 501c3 organizations per 1,000 persons, volunteer rate (state), volunteer hours per resident (state), voter turnout, share of Tree City USA counties
  • 6th in Other Prosperity Index: life span, non-wage sources of income, income volatility and poverty rate

Have a question, insight or suggestion for the Nebraska Thriving Index? Reach out to us!

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Nebraska Thriving Index Insights: Northeast Region

October 15, 2019
Today we explore Nebraska’s Northeast region through the Nebraska Thriving Index. The region’s thriving index score is 103 — just above the peer average of 100. It ranks 3rd among its six peer regions, all of which are located in …
Nebraska Thriving Index Northeast Region, Wayne

Today we explore Nebraska’s Northeast region through the Nebraska Thriving Index. The region’s thriving index score is 103 — just above the peer average of 100. It ranks 3rd among its six peer regions, all of which are located in Nebraska and Iowa.

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

  • Growth
  • Other Prosperity
  • Social Capital

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

  • Private wage growth – 1st among peers
  • Total employment growth – 2nd among peers
  • Private employment – 2nd among peers
  • Growth in dividends, interest and rent – 2nd among peers
  • Total personal income stability – 2nd among peers

These findings indicate there is solid economic growth in the Northeast region. However, to ensure long-term growth, the region should take steps to improve quality of life and the education and skill of its workforce.  

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, other prosperity and social capital indexes:

  • 501c3 organizations – 6th (last) among peer regions
  • Percent of population in poverty – 5th among peer regions
  • Households with children – 4th among peer regions

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

  • Economic Opportunity & Diversity – 5th among peers
  • Quality of Life – 5th among peers

Broadly speaking, the region ranks poorly for entrepreneurship and employment opportunities. The economic opportunity and diversity measures include:

  • Entrepreneurial activity – 5th among peers
  • Non-farm proprietors per 1,000 persons – 5th among peers
  • Employer establishments per 1,000 residents – 5th among peers
  • Industry diversity – 4th among peers

Quality of life comparisons among peers are fairly strong in natural resources and arts — even leading in count of parks. However, there are explicit concerns in:

  • Health care access (practioners per capita) – 6th (last) among peers
  • Daycare providers – 6th (last) among peers
  • Relative weekly wage – 6th (last) among peers

In considering the many factors gathered through the Nebraska Thriving Index, communities in the region should continue to focus on:

  • Improving the quality of local education institutions at the primary, secondary and community college level. 
  • Business internship programs to encourage more college graduates to locate or relocate to the region after graduation
  • Encouraging entrepreneurship in industries related to quality of life including health care, child care, restaurants and leisure and entertainment

To learn more, dig in yourself at ruralfutures.nebraska.edu/nethrivingindex. We encourage users to submit insights, questions and examples of strategies they’ve employed to address what has been discussed here.

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Nebraska Thriving Index Insights: North 81 Region

September 24, 2019
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 …
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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Nebraska Thriving Index identifies economic growth, quality of life, social capital as regional advantages in the state

September 18, 2019
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 …

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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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


Media Mentions

Nebraska Has New Rural Index
NET Nebraska
September 18, 2019


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.

Strategy_Diagram

Project Contributors

The project was originally created under the leadership of Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., former interim executive director of the Rural Futures Institute. It is currently administered by Kim Peterson, RFI Director of Competitive Awards & Finance, and communicated by Katelyn Ideus, RFI Director of Communications & PR, with asset development by Lauren Simonsen of Simonsen Design.


Additional Resources