Grit, tenacity and imagination needed to revitalize rural Nebraska

1 May 2019

Last December, the New York Times wrote rural America’s obituary. Citing three decades of population growth in tech hubs like Boston and Silicon Valley, the message was clear: As middle America dies, the coasts’ high-skilled, high-wage workers will feed off their own success while the rest of us dwindle into nothingness.

Folks living in Omaha and Lincoln are in the same boat as Norfolk, Broken Bow, and Hyannis, according to the Times. Offsetting every effort to build confidence in our state, 20- and 30-year-olds in Somerville, Massachusetts, dismiss Nebraska as “flyover country” as they create explosive value in a knowledge economy where growth depends on the quantity, quality, and accessibility of the information available, rather than the means of production.

As if rural America’s death warrant from the Times wasn’t enough, pile on devastating losses from the recent flooding that destroyed hundreds of homes in small towns, crippled our transportation systems, and wiped out businesses. This hasn’t been a bright decade in northeast Nebraska when you add deadly E4 tornados in Pilger, low commodity prices, and our second 500-year flood in eight years.

Despite the punishing decade, we find ourselves fortunate to live in an area where adversity is met by character, authenticity, and hard work. How many people have reflected on what we’ve been teaching our children as we pick up the pieces after horrible destruction and hard times? For close to 10 years, this May’s graduates have watched their moms and dads put aside their own problems, fight to protect the town levy, help those who have lost everything, and get up after being knocked down to try harder the next day.

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