RFI Announces Nebraska Thriving Index, Expected May 2019

The Nebraska Thriving Index will provide 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 (UNL) 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.


Omaha, Neb.
The Barometer

Now, the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska has convened and funded an expanded research team from UNL, the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) and Nebraska Extension Community Vitality Initiative to bring this analysis to all regions of Nebraska. The initial report is expected to be delivered online and in print in May 2019 with subsequent reports out in March 2020. Funding to sustain this work is a top priority.

“Through this work, community and state leaders will have access to data and information that is meaningful to the decisions they have to make as they balance several factors relating to not only the future of our rural communities, but of our combined geographies,” said Connie Reimers-Hild, RFI Interim Executive Director and Chief Futurist. “We know from our work with partners around the world that rural and urban economies are interdependent, and developing this tool will help community and state leaders better understand what levers they can pull to reach their desired futures.”

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.

“People are always comparing their communities to other places that may not be starting from an equivalent situation,” said Eric Thompson, director of the Bureau and professor in the UNL College of Business. “What I would like most of all to come out of this is for leaders to have a way to say, ‘Given the factors we are starting with, are we doing a good job or not?’ And with that more equivalent comparison, they then can determine the answer and decide strategies going forward.”

At this point, the state has been divided into nine regions, which are being matched to similarly situated peer regions based on:

Outcome, resource and competitive advantage indexes have also been developed. The outcome index will measure growth, economic opportunity and diversity as well as other prosperity indicators of a region. The resource and competitive advantage indexes will capture demographic growth and renewal, education and skills, infrastructure and the cost of doing business, quality of life placemaking and social capital of a region.

In true RFI Nexus fashion, through the development of this project, the Bureau has expanded undergraduate research opportunities in business and economics with the Bureau Scholars program during the 2018-19 academic year. UNK has also established an undergraduate research assistant position, and the project team will be requesting local community feedback in the coming months.

“This is a prime example of how RFI will move forward — very focused, high-impact work that develops leaders, technology and rural-urban collaboration while creating outcomes in the areas of workforce, economic development and access,” Reimers-Hild said. “We know the best way for RFI to provide value is to partner through projects that create products or services our state’s communities can use and our national and international partners can model.”



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

Delivery online and in print May 2019 & March 2020

Regional growth model — linking quality of life factors to rural growth — for use by communities throughout Nebraska. Research indicates that quality of life and amenities factors can explain a large portion of the trend in per capita income, employment and population change across southeast U.S. counties, and promoting entrepreneurial capacity is an economic development strategy with positive payoffs in remote regions.

Delivery March 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 for planning. The model will measure how rural manufacturing, agriculture, tourism and other key industries create jobs and business activity throughout the state.

Delivery March 2020


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.