The latest population figures underscore Nebraska’s need to address its brain drain challenge. The state’s population growth last year was meager, and in the last three years, Nebraska has lost a net of 11,000 people moving elsewhere in the country. Such net domestic outmigration complicates Nebraska’s need to fill job vacancies, nurture high-growth industries and retain a significant number of young people in local communities.
It’s not as if other states are free from such challenges, of course. Population growth was weak nationwide last year, and many states are struggling with worker shortages. Nebraska’s population growth should enable the state to retain its three U.S. House seats after the 2020 Census, in contrast to up to 10 states expected to see such losses.
Thirty-four states have economies larger than Nebraska’s, making for a significant magnetic effect in attracting a portion of Nebraska’s young people with job opportunities.
To meet this challenge, Nebraska can employ a variety of sensible strategies. The new Blueprint Nebraska initiative, developed through public sessions across the state, can provide a central vehicle for building consensus and momentum for progress. This initiative can bring together business, education, government, nonprofits and communities for concerted, focused action.
Communities can address quality-of-life needs, for example, by promoting strong schools, attractive public amenities and a community spirit that welcomes residents of all backgrounds.
School, business partners and the state Department of Education are working well to create career academies in a growing number of communities; Grand Island’s Career Pathway Institute is a prime example. Communities such as Kimball and Neligh set fine examples for 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.
In addition, support is broad for strengthening Nebraska’s use of apprenticeships. The state has adopted supports to help communities build affordable housing. Community colleges are stepping up to help meet job training needs. Metropolitan Community College is in the vanguard, with its Center for Advanced and Emerging Technology, plus MCC’s expanded auto technology facility on its South Omaha campus. Those centers match their curricula to real-world business needs. Wayne State College, similarly, last year opened its Center for Applied Technology.
Nebraska will have an important opportunity in the 2020 legislative session to revamp its business incentives law, which expires at the end of this year, with a focus on promoting high-growth industries and higher wages.
By working together and exploring innovative solutions, Nebraskans have major opportunities to address the brain drain challenge.