The future of Greater Nebraska hasn’t looked any brighter for decades. And we can prove it!
At Nebraska Community Foundation, we do lots of things. We help communities identify their local assets, teach them about the value of building endowments, train committed volunteers on a variety of community development topics, and much, much more. For over 25 years, we’ve also been working diligently to build what we call “an optimistic, confident brand for Greater Nebraska.” If you are reading this column, you are no doubt familiar with some of the negative stigmas and storylines attached to rural places—that they are fading into oblivion, unworthy of our investment and attention. Though our work in changing this tired rural narrative may never end, it has certainly become easier in recent years, in part thanks to the tireless efforts of NCF’s 1,500 volunteers across the state who are helping their hometowns not just survive but thrive.
This isn’t just a feeling. There are a variety of factors that are contributing to my confidence in the future of our rural communities and numerous critical data sets that point to a more prosperous future. First, the latest U.S. Census shows that Nebraska’s population growth has been steady and now equals the U.S. average for the first time since 1900. The Center for Public Affairs Research at UNO’s analysis shows Nebraska’s net migration has also improved over time with net gains in the last three decades. This growth isn’t just limited to urban places. Population increased in 183 of Nebraska’s 529 communities during the 2010s, up from 142 in the 2000s.
Second, the way young Nebraskans feel about their rural Nebraska hometowns has shifted drastically in recent years. Through Nebraska Community Foundation’s Youth Surveys—a study of thousands of Greater Nebraska high schoolers—we made some very unexpected and exciting discoveries. Any idea what Nebraska’s Generation Zers identify as the top three features of their ideal community? Internet access? Restaurants and nightlife? Nope. It’s safety, good schools and proximity to family. Surprised? We were too! This is extraordinary news for our small communities where safety, good schools and proximity to family already exist. In other words, Greater Nebraska already has what Gen Z wants. Yet another reason to feel optimistic.
Finally, Nebraska Community Foundation’s latest Transfer of Wealth Study reveals the incredible abundance that exists in our great state. More than $100 billion in Nebraska wealth will pass from one generation to another over the next 10 years. Over 50 years, the figure swells to $950 billion. Imagine all the ways this abundance could be used to improve quality of life and continue to build communities of choice. We’re already seeing it in places like Diller, Red Cloud, Norfolk, Hebron, O’Neill, McCook, Laurel, Ainsworth, Ogallala, Pender, Imperial, Stuart, Ord, Bertrand, Howells and my community of Columbus.
If you share my belief in the future of Greater Nebraska, I hope you’ll take a minute to visit www.fivetothrivene.org where you’ll learn more about why our Nebraska hometowns are worthy of our investment. I also ask that you consider joining us in the Five to Thrive movement—a call to action for all generous Nebraskans to consider leaving 5% of their assets to a local charitable cause, a collective act that would result in billions of dollars to be reinvested into the future of our hometowns and state. Remember, when we all leave five, our hometowns thrive!
KC Belitz is Chief Operating Officer at Nebraska Community Foundation, a community development organization that is unleashing abundant local assets, inspiring charitable giving and connecting ambitious people to build stronger communities and a Greater Nebraska.