The Nebraska Community Foundation works with community, organizational and donor-advised affiliated funds serving 250 communities located in 80 counties. NCF and its affiliated funds have reinvested $269 million in Nebraska since 1994.
05/24/2015, Omaha World-Herald
Some population numbers point to challenges for Nebraska. Depopulation figures are a major worry.
But other population numbers for the state reveal surprises. Some reveal positive trends.
One surprise came in recent World-Herald reporting that Nebraska has a higher birth rate than all but four other states.
“Nebraska’s higher-than-average birth rate cuts across all major ethnic and racial groups and just about any other demographic you can think of,” staff writer Henry Cordes explained. “Overall, the state’s birth rate is 16 percent higher than the U.S. average.”
In fact, young couples in many instances are returning to the state to start their families. A growing number of Nebraska communities are pursuing outreach strategies to attract such families.
Two related developments: Nebraska is seeing an increase in its number of farmers in their 20s and 30s. And a large portion of Nebraska young people surveyed say they’re interested in returning to their rural communities.
Here are some details:
» Town-population trend. Number-crunching by University of Nebraska-Lincoln economists last year revealed the encouraging finding that a number of rural Nebraska counties are experiencing a notable net in-migration of 30- and 40-somethings. In many cases these are young couples and young professionals.
The UNL analysis found such in-migration in 22 of Nebraska’s “small-town counties” (those lacking a population center of 2,500 or more) and in 28 “frontier counties” (those with a population density below six people per square mile).
» Outreach efforts to young people. Here are just a few examples of forward-looking efforts across the state on this score:
Holt County in north central Nebraska has seen significant success as a result of its well-done outreach work to young families.
The Center for Rural Research and Development at the University of Nebraska at Kearney works with Nebraska communities to attract young professionals with Nebraska roots.
Norfolk draws on a database of native sons and daughters and has programs to make newcomers feel welcome.
UNL Extension is helping Nebraska rural communities learn to market themselves through specially tailored programs.
Young professionals are being surveyed in the Omaha area to check the pulse on their key concerns and interests as part of the “Campaign for a Greater Omaha.”
» Young farmers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that during 2007-12 the number of active Nebraska farmers ages 25 to 34 increased by 44 percent, going from 2,975 to 4,291.
That’s a big contrast with Iowa, Kansas and Missouri. In each of those states, the 25-to-34 farmer age group fell slightly during 2007-12.
These numbers connect with an observation about rural development made to The World-Herald this year by State Sen. Kate Sullivan, a Boone County banker and chairwoman of the Legislature’s Education Committee. “In banking,” Sullivan said, “we see some brilliant examples of young farmers and producers doing cutting-edge things and coming back to their communities.”
» Young people’s interest in returning. The Nebraska Community Foundation surveyed 5,927 students in 40 Nebraska middle and high schools in rural areas and turned up encouraging results.
Eighty percent of the students rated their hometown as average or above for a young person to live, and 51 percent said they could picture themselves living in their home area in the future if career opportunities are available.
Curt Arens, a farmer from Crofton, was right when he wrote last year at FarmProgress.com that it makes great sense to “ask high school students, college students who will be moving home after graduation and young families what their preferred future would be in our community.”
When a community seeks such input, he wrote, “it paves the road for the future of rural communities and gives young farmers and ranchers and other young families another good reason to return home to make their lives and livelihood.”
Nebraska has population challenges, but it also has population successes. These successes, made possible by forward-looking leaders and communities, deserve to be understood and applauded.