Good life, Greater Nebraska

By JEFF YOST

A record number of babies born!

Twenty- and 30-somethings move home at rates not seen in decades!

Small town citizens raise millions to reinvest in their community’s future!

These are all headlines from Greater Nebraska in 2016. The O’Neill hospital, for example, reported 174 births last year. Communities like Albion, Stuart and Pender all have many more young families living there than they did 10 years ago. Dozens of Nebraska hometowns — big and small — are coming together to raise millions through their unrestricted endowments, providing support to worthwhile causes today, and paving the way to a brighter future.

This isn’t the rural narrative we’ve grown accustomed to hearing, but that may be changing.

According to U.S. Census data, populations in many areas of rural Nebraska are stabilizing. The Nebraska Community Foundation recently surveyed 6,000 Nebraska middle and high school students about their perceptions of their hometowns. Only 12 percent said their town is too small, and the majority can picture themselves living there in the future if career opportunities are available.

What do places like Albion, Stuart, Pender and O’Neill have in common? Each of these communities has focused on a simple, asset-based community development strategy for success: shared vision; distributed leadership; citizen engagement and building an unrestricted endowment and using it to create magnetic communities.

This four-part strategy works like a magnet to attract young families.

People attraction is the new community economic development priority for building an honorable future for Nebraska. Telecommunications are making it possible for people to live and work wherever they choose. Today, the economic development question isn’t one of jobs. The better question is: Why here? Why do I want to live, work, and raise my family in this community?

Nebraska Community Foundation is working with over 250 communities across Greater Nebraska to help people answer that question.

Community foundation funds are playing a critical role in these success stories. They are identifying their community’s unique assets, unleashing talent and resources, making a case for investing locally and, ultimately, taking action. Perhaps most importantly, these leaders are having optimistic conversations about the future with youth and young adults.

Community success is not preordained. It requires constant attention by many people, committed to relationships, well-being, opportunity and a hopeful narrative about our future.

This quarterly column, “Good Life, Greater Nebraska,” will shine a light on extraordinary communities doing extraordinary things. It will aim to change misconceptions about life in rural America. It will examine statewide, national and international trends in community and economic development. It will explore how communities can be intentional about their future, take control of their destiny, and create the hometown of their dreams.

The author is president and CEO of Nebraska Community Foundation.

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