Hall County resembles the current ethnic composition of the United States more than any other county in Nebraska, data compiled by the New York Times suggests.
With a population that in 2016 was 69 percent white, 2 percent black, 27 percent Hispanic and 3 percent other, Hall County most closely reflected the U.S. in 2015, when the country had a population that was 61 percent white, 12 percent black, 18 percent Hispanic and 8 percent other.
While Hall County draws parallels to the present, other counties in Nebraska echo the past and give a glimpse of the future.
Chase County resembles the U.S. in 1974. Thurston County resembles the projection for the U.S. of 2060, with its 2016 population that was 37 percent white.
More than a third of Nebraska’s 93 counties most closely resemble the U.S. in 1975, when the national population was 80 percent white, 11 percent black, 7 percent Hispanic and 1 percent other. But for almost every county resembling 1975, the white share of the population hovers closer to 95 percent.
Chad Nabity, regional planning director, was not surprised to hear that Hall County is the closest to the nation’s current demographics.
Nabity said Hall County and Grand Island have historically been made up of a diverse population, dating back to the German, Polish and Czechoslovakian settlers.
Hispanic immigration began in the 1920s with the sugar beet factory, he said, and continues today.
Grand Island grows at an annual rate of 1 percent, and Nabity suspects that immigration is a large contributing factor to the community’s steady population increase.
“Nebraska is celebrating its 150th birthday this year,” he said. “And there were not 1.8 million people in Nebraska 150 years ago, and those 1.8 million people are not all the children of those original immigrants.”
Nabity estimated that there are more than 20 languages other than English spoken in Grand Island homes, which means the community has to reconsider the way it delivers services, educates children and provides government.
“If you grew up in Nebraska, you tend to be proud of the work you do, and you want to do it the best you can,” he said. “You want to provide the best service, the best product, and so you need the best communication, too.”
Sandra Barrera, an educator with Hall County Extension, is proof of the response to the need for communication. Barrera is part of the Community Vitality Initiative, a resource for Hispanic businesses.
Barrera helps entrepreneurs navigate taxes, marketing and property needs as they open their businesses.
In 2015 she sponsored four businesses in just a few months. In 2016 she supported 29, and in the first six months of 2017 she helped 32 businesses open.
She said Grand Island welcomes immigrants and their businesses, but she wants the community to do even more. She wants food trucks to be able to park in the lots of stores such as Walmart, Super Saver and Walgreens.
The Hispanic population will continue to rise, and she said it will take more than appreciation to accommodate new levels of diverse populations.
“You can’t just tell me you like tacos,” Barrera said. “How are we going to reach and help these people? How are we going to connect, how are we going to grow with them? That’s what we need to ask to be inclusive.”