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Published April 05, 2010, 09:02 AM

Nebraskans returning to rural

OMAHA, Neb. — A recent development offers hope for Nebraska rural areas struggling with dwindling populations: A growing number of adults are returning to the hometowns they long ago left and helping to rejuvenate those local economies.

OMAHA, Neb. — A recent development offers hope for Nebraska rural areas struggling with dwindling populations: A growing number of adults are returning to the hometowns they long ago left and helping to rejuvenate those local economies.

Jason Henderson, an economist and vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s Omaha, Neb., branch, researched migration patterns and their economic effects on rural communities. He noted that the Midlands has seen a resurgence of older residents and outlined three demographic changes: The retirement of baby boomers strains pools of workers by reducing work force participation. The departure of young adults also challenges work force levels, especially for high-skilled positions, and reduces a community’s productivity and economic potential.The return of middle-aged adults could partially offset these declines in the work force.

In addition to an increased number of working-age residents, he says, these workers’ skills, knowledge, experience and connections can boost productivity.

One particular success story is in Nebraska, where the Norfolk Area Recruiters have helped inspire a surge of new business and job opportunities in the Norfolk area. The group’s recruitment and retainment efforts are not only reflective of the smart planning within Nebraska but also an excellent example of how rural communities can help themselves build on their successes.

Jeff Yost, president and CEO of the Nebraska Community Foundation, says recruiting and retaining residents is critical to building and sustaining rural economies. Yost’s foundation has embraced this mission through its work with communities to build endowments. Underscoring the importance of this effort, the foundation estimates that about $1.9 billion in rural wealth will leave the state annually during the next five decades.

While immense challenges continue to confront rural areas, it’s encouraging to see recruitment efforts reaching out to older adults. This strategic vision could help ensure strong economic gains, improve worker productivity and forge viable communities.

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