Jeff Yost: Invite young Nebraskans to build community with us

The 2023 Greater Nebraska Youth Survey makes me incredibly hopeful for the future of our state. Along with our partners at the Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, we have surveyed over 3,700 middle and high school students in the past four years to better understand their priorities, values and desires and how they truly feel about the places they call home.

The middle and high school students surveyed in 2023 (from schools in Arcadia, Crofton, David City, Diller-Odell, Imperial, Ogallala, Ord, Paxton, Pender, Shickley and Stuart) echoed many of the findings from previous surveys, such as the majority (58%) reporting they are extremely or somewhat likely to live in the area they live in now. Seventy-two percent do not recognize a negative stigma with remaining in or returning to your hometown – something that has undoubtedly shifted in the past decade. These students don’t know the future, but they have faith in Nebraska being a place they want to call home as they embark on their careers and begin their adult lives.

We believe these young people are on to something very important. Today we can live and work wherever we choose to live and work. The number of Nebraskans working remotely has doubled since before the pandemic, according to a recent Flatwater Free Press article. With that in mind, the most important community economic development question we have today is: Why do I want to live, work and raise my family in this community? Today, helping Nebraska hometowns become “communities of choice” is our highest order priority.

In Nebraska, we have what we need to create an even brighter future. We have incredible abundance, including the massive intergenerational transfer of wealth. We have incredible people who are innovative, hardworking, and generous with their time, talent, and treasure to build and sustain wonderful homeplaces. We have incredible systems and institutions that are efficient and effective. And most importantly, we have young people, as illustrated by this survey, who want to be in community with us.

Human migration is one of the most complex puzzles we can try to work on. There are so many variables that go into the choice of where you want to live and make your life. Let’s work on the pieces of this puzzle we have some influence over, such as:

  • Being welcoming and creating a sense of genuine belonging for everyone
  • Supporting great K–12 schools and educational resources, including world class early childhood development
  • Investing in and building partnerships to provide more affordable housing
  • Asking friends, neighbors, and newcomers to co-create community with us
  • Making introductions and serving as a connector to business and employment opportunities
  • Sharing good news about our homeplaces and having a positive narrative about our collective future
  • Working to ensure broadband access to allow remote work in our communities

I frequently say I’m a Nebraskan “by birth and by choice.” I’m proud to be a Nebraskan. We need these words to be spoken frequently and with real conviction by thousands of Nebraskans. Based on these survey results, most of our young people want to say the same thing. Ask them. Tell them. Show them. Connect them. Invite them. As Nebraskans, let’s all model what we believe and invite these young Nebraskans to be in community with us.

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