States and communities are in strong competition nationwide to attract young talent. Nebraska annually sees a net exodus of about 2,300 young residents who leave for opportunities elsewhere. But communities across the state are awake to the need, and many are pursuing worthwhile strategies in response.
Addressing the challenges involves various responses, including affordable housing and a community atmosphere that’s welcoming to all. Recent World-Herald reporting highlighted an additional key strategy: providing attractive community amenities that meet young residents’ expectations.
Norfolk, for example, is taking steps that would enable creation of an entertainment district on the Elkhorn River. Plans envision a bar, restaurants, a modern office park, trendy housing and recreational opportunities, The World-Herald’s Henry J. Cordes reported. Local businesses are showing interest in becoming part of the project.
In McCook, similarly, the local community foundation supports live entertainment, cultural experiences and historical and architectural preservation. South Sioux City has put in 18 miles of paved bike paths. Pender built a $7.1 million, 38,500-square-foot community center with private contributions and foundation grants to its community foundation.
Residents ages 25 to 34 currently account for 14.3% of the population in Nebraska’s urban counties and 10% in rural counties, according to U.S. Census data. The 2010 Census provided a measure of encouragement about the ability of small Nebraska communities to retain young adults, in many cases couples starting a family. During 2000 to 2010, the figures showed, 53 Nebraska counties that lacked a town of at least 2,500 residents had an in-migration of adults in their 30s and 40s.
The pattern is a familiar one cited by Nebraska community leaders: In many instances, young couples looked at their options in setting down roots and opted for small-town living. Various Nebraska communities work to maintain contact with native sons and daughters, to maximize the chances for their return. Norfolk has pursued this strategy.
Kimball and Neligh are among the Nebraska communities that have devoted impressive energy to community marketing and recruitment efforts. The numbers are impressive in Holt County, where the local community foundation helped recruit 475 young adults and families over the past decade.
Another worthy approach is building community connections to middle school and high school students, to help them understand local opportunities. Volunteers in Imperial have set a strong example of such youth engagement.
Encouraging an entrepreneurial spirit among local youths and developing associated talents offers promise, since it gives them more options upon returning to their home community. Many Nebraska institutions are active on the issue. One of the most wide-ranging initiatives is the EntrepreneurShip Investigation program, a University of Nebraska Extension effort involving 4-H Clubs and other organizations across the state.
Retaining young residents is a complicated challenge for Nebraska communities, large and small. There is no magic solution, but it’s encouraging to see the vision many cities and towns are showing as they work to meet the need.