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Solving Population Decline in Rural Nebraska

Recently, we published a post regarding an upcoming town hall scheduled with Senator Kate Sullivan. You can read the details on the town hall here. One item that we mentioned in the post was LR226 – a legislative resolution that authorizes an interim study on rural population decline.

Monowi, Nebraska's Lone Resident

Population declination has long been ignored by local, statewide and national policy makers as threat to the state’s economic viability. Often declination was treated as a symptom of some other greater ill. I’ve always believed this was a major mistake. A huge mistake for urban and rural communities alike: both Omaha and Lincoln need viable rural communities for their own good. It’s that simple; urban communities cannot afford to ignore rural issues anymore (the same is true for rural Nebraska – Omaha and Lincoln’s success is just as important).

Fortunately for us, statewide policy makers are now looking at population decline as the main event, the illness itself, rather than some symptom of other issues like wage depression and a lack of “good jobs”. Why is this important?

This policy shift demonstrates a willingness to look population decline much like underinvestment and job creation: good policy can create measures to solve the problem. History has seen wage, job and income growth in rural places. Those rates just simply haven’t kept up with urban locales, however. Jobs have been created but people haven’t necessarily been moving en masse to rural communities. The huge divergence in economic futures between urban and rural places is now based off of access to post-secondary educational opportunities (think innovation and technology-driven development). We also can’t be afraid to confront the long-term trend of farm consolidations either. To be competitive in the 21st century, rural communities need additional tools and resources to alter these realities.

Obviously many rural communities are on the road to unsustainability. In the 21st Century, rural communities cannot afford the laissez-faire attitude that they expect to survive anymore. They must work for it. That requires bold changes to local rural communities rural mode of operation. Change is hard, but I would like to ask: what is the alternative?

Are local residents willing to accept the death of their community as the outcome of inaction? If you are not, think about supporting the first step in addressing population decline: LR226.

In Ord and Valley County, we are not willing to accept the inertia of the past to determine our future. In August, the Ord Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors voted to support LR226. It’s time we start arguing loudly for policy makers to attack the challenge of rural population decline. The Chamber will be active and will be testifying in favor of LR226 on September 15 in Kearney. We invite you to join us – and tell us what you think about population decline. Can it be stopped? Can it be solved?

We’ve seen recently that community improvements, in tandem with economic development, can change the tide of rural decline. In the past decade for example, the declination rate was halved for Ord. That is major progress. It also means we can’t stop with what we’ve done.

Please think about joining us in Kearney – whether to testify or to give us feedback on this issue. Feel free to comment – we’d love to hear from you.

~ Caleb

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