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.


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

Last Articles

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.

View

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!

View

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.

###

View



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.