Jeff Yost: Why more young people are choosing rural

Hometowns in Greater Nebraska have so much to offer. At Nebraska Community Foundation (NCF), we work with over 270 communities and 1,500 volunteers across the state who are utilizing the assets unique to their places to fuel community development that will continue to attract new generations of Nebraskans.

Homegrown philanthropy is a major asset in this endeavor. Charitable dollars and endowment payout are being used to fund projects and programs that directly benefit young people and their families—like early childhood development, access to arts and culture, recreational opportunities, education, health and wellness, housing, and more.

Even people outside the state are taking notice. U.S. News and World Report ranked Nebraska as the third best state to live. Kids Count placed Nebraska ninth for children’s wellbeing. WalletHub ranked Nebraska fourth in its list of the best states to raise a family. You don’t have to be from Nebraska to recognize it’s something special.

Nebraska Community Foundation’s work focuses heavily on creating magnetic, bountiful places that appeal to young people wanting to remain in, return to, or move to Greater Nebraska. We visit regularly with these stayers, returners and newcomers about why they chose to make their homes and raise their families in Greater Nebraska. Here are just a few insights they offer . . .

You can get stuff done

“A small town can move much faster than a large city as I don’t have to go through multiple hoops to make a difference. If I want to approach someone about a new initiative, I don’t have to fill out multiple applications and wait months for a meeting. I can just call them or approach them when I see them somewhere in town that week.” – Sarah Sinnett, Sidney

Those compelled to make a difference have long been choosing Greater Nebraska for the opportunities it provides to get involved and give back. Examples of this work include accessible playgrounds, youth entrepreneurship contests, skateparks, a “serviceship” camp, expanded learning opportunities (like afterschool and summer school) and new pickleball courts.

Research shows that this quality has the potential to be particularly attractive to members of Generation Z who are perhaps more values driven than any generation before them. Over the years NCF has surveyed thousands of young Nebraskans who confirm Gen Z craves purpose, not just a paycheck. Furthermore, they report they desire to live in communities that offer safety, good schools and proximity to family – three things already readily available in our hometowns.

You don’t need to compromise

“If you’re ready to slow down a little and enjoy a small-town atmosphere without compromising on the retail front, access to healthcare, nor your wellness lifestyle, Greater Nebraska is for you!” – Tricia Wagner, McCook

A common misconception is that there’s nothing to do in Greater Nebraska, but that could not be further from the truth. Towns across our state offer amenities, attractions and activities for people of all ages. Communities like O’Neill, Norfolk, Nebraska City and Sidney have vibrant downtowns with unique businesses and restaurants. A vibrant arts and culture scene can be found in David City, Red Cloud, McCook, Seward, Nemaha County and Ogallala. Ord touts a beloved brewery and the beautiful Golden Husk, a celebrated theater that hosts movies, plays, music, festivals and more. Many communities in NCF’s network, such as those in Knox County, Taylor, Burwell, Halsey and Keith County enjoy the advantages of living near abundant natural assets and beauty.

Invitation is essential

“Opportunities prevail and possibilities are limitless in Greater Nebraska. Cherish the memories and lessons that you learn on your travels, and then use your experience and talents in your hometown community. If someone invites you to come home, explore that opportunity – you will be amazed at what Greater Nebraska holds for you.” – Melani Flynn, Ord

There are many young Nebraskans today who feel a strong attachment to their place in the form of fond memories, friendships, family and appreciation for small-town life. Sometimes, though, they need a nudge to remind them they are welcome to not just return home but to participate in co-creating the community’s future.

Extending an invitation is one of the most profound and overlooked strategies for enticing young Nebraskans back to their hometowns. People attraction only happens one person at a time. One heart and one mind at a time. I encourage readers of this column, especially those living in Greater Nebraska, to consider the people they know who may be waiting for their invitation.

More News

All News

Norfolk program helps Spanish-speaking Nebraskans pursue the American Dream

KC Belitz: Looking at the Ukraine situation

At Home in Greater Nebraska – Jay Wallinger