KEARNEY – The 2020 Nebraska Thriving Index shows the Tri-Cities area is a top-performing rural region, ranking second among peer regions in the Upper Midwest.
Residents of the Tri-Cities area, which includes Kearney, Grand Island and Hastings, experience a high quality of life, strong population growth and generational renewal, healthy economic opportunities and diversity and good cost-competitiveness and infrastructure, according to the index.
The Nebraska Thriving Index is a benchmarking tool that compares eight Nebraska regions with peers around the Upper Midwest on 47 measures of economic performance and conditions. The Tri-Cities area was compared with six peer regions in Iowa, Kansas and Minnesota.
Developed by a team of social scientists from the University of Nebraska at Kearney and University of Nebraska-Lincoln, under the leadership of Rural Prosperity Nebraska, the index utilizes data from a variety of sources and strives to provide rural residents and decision-makers with information for economic development and policy analysis while answering the basic question, “How is our economy doing?”
Key areas of strength for the Tri-Cities region include:
- The Economic Opportunity and Diversity Index, where it ranks:
- First in entrepreneurial activity, non-farm proprietors per 1,000 persons, and employer establishments per 1,000 persons
- Second in industry diversity
- The Growth Index, where it ranks:
- First in growth in households with children
- Second in growth in total employment
- The Demographic Growth and Renewal Index, where it ranks:
- First in concentration of younger cohorts (born in 1985 or after), Hispanic population percentage, and median age
- Second in long-run population growth
- The Quality of Life Index, where it ranks:
- First in the count of national parks, monuments, trails or other protected areas
- Second in climate and commute times
- The Infrastructure and Cost of Doing Business Index, where it ranks:
- Second on the count of qualified opportunity zones, the top marginal income tax rate, and the weekly wage rate
The Tri-Cities region also faces some challenges, ranking below the peer average on the following indexes:
- The Other Prosperity Index, where it ranks:
- Sixth in poverty rate
- Seventh in personal income stability
- The Social Capital Index, where it ranks:
- Sixth in volunteer rates and 501(c)(3) organizations per 1,000 persons
- Seventh in voter turnout
- The Education and Skill Index, where it ranks:
- Fifth in percentage of knowledge workers and associate degree attainment rate
- Sixth in high school attainment
Given the strengths and challenges of the Tri-Cities region identified by the 2020 Nebraska Thriving Index, the next steps for the region to consider are:
- Facilitate collaboration among the region’s educational institutions and the business community to address education, training and workforce development.
- Identify the top barriers for individuals close to or in poverty, such as child care, transportation, health care, poor work history and/or a lack of soft skills, and work with agencies and organizations in the region to create and/or enhance programs to address these barriers.
- Improve awareness of volunteer and voter opportunities.
Detailed findings from the 2020 Nebraska Thriving Index, based on data from before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, are available at ruralprosperityne.unl.edu/thriving-index.
The research team for the 2020 Nebraska Thriving Index includes Eric Thompson and Mitch Herian from the UNL Bureau of Business Research and Bree Dority from the UNK College of Business and Technology. Launched in 2020, Rural Prosperity Nebraska brings together the intellectual capital of students and researchers from across the University of Nebraska system with the boots-on-the-ground work of Nebraska Extension educators committed to rural success across the state.