A Multifaceted Approach for Workforce and Economic Prosperity

One of the biggest challenges facing rural Nebraska communities is the out-migration of young people. This trend is a major concern because it leads to less business development, a lack of innovation, and stagnant growth. The Aksarben Foundation saw this as an opportunity to use its funds and resources to implement programs that can ultimately help these rural communities grow and prosper. Northeast Nebraska Growing Together, Powered by Aksarben, is an initiative that was developed to reduce the out-migration of young people, elevate the number of four-year college graduates in Madison County, and increase earnings to match the state’s average wage. 

Northeast Nebraska’s Call to Action

Bringing together business and education leaders to reduce the brain drain in rural Nebraska is one of Growing Together’s main strategies. This initiative pairs entrepreneurs with investment capital and students to redesign a workforce that can compete in a knowledge-based economy.

Northeast Nebraska Growing Together’s Focus Areas

This Aksarben initiative utilizes a multipronged approach to address areas of opportunity in northeast Nebraska. These include:

The initiative strives to create a youth-centric atmosphere in downtown Norfolk.  As stated in the original Growing Together plan, “Too often, young people are asked to stay or move back to communities that revolve around the preferences and businesses of 50+-year-olds.” A concerted effort to create a youth-attractive atmosphere in downtown Norfolk is the result of both public and private investment that is creating a place for young people to live and work. This has included downtown housing, many new restaurants and entertainment facilities, and the activation of common spaces for community events at River Point Square. According to Governing Magazine, twentysomethings are attracted to communities where there is a distinct identity of place and efforts to engage them.

Fostering an ecosystem that cultivates new businesses and capital infusion serves as another catalyst for population growth. The integration of entrepreneurs into the community needs to grow to attract young people. Building the entrepreneurial ecosystem that develops new businesses, innovative ideas, and capital investment in these businesses is another population driver. Invest Nebraska’s Intersect Coworking & Incubator opened last year and provides programming and support to local entrepreneurs and businesses. Currently hosting weekly 1 Million Cups events each Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. that are free and open to anyone. Drop-in or monthly rental office space is also available at Intersect.

This effort incentivizes young people to enroll in, and complete, degree programs in computer science/IT, business, communications, industrial technology, criminal justice, and education. Students finish their education in immersive, work-based degrees intended to lead to full-time employment in northeast Nebraska. Cooperative scholarships are intended to create a labor pool that enables local businesses to implement advanced production methods, increase outputs, and expand market share.

Aksarben provided scholarship dollars for the first cohort of students who recently finished their internships and graduated from Wayne State College. Forty-five more students will move into downtown housing in the fall of 2024, and 75 more every year after that.

This strategy focuses on providing more awareness of career opportunities for K-12 students and partnering with businesses to align programs and careers with local industry. The iHub fabrication lab that is being developed by Northeast Community College is an example of the exciting progress that not only helps with workforce development, but provides additional support to entrepreneurs, while opening opportunities for robotics curriculum to young people in the area.

This plan aims to establish the creative district, developing spaces for artists and creators, and attracting inventive enterprises.

Within the scope of the initiative, Norfolk has embraced artistic expression, including murals, sculptures, and live music, creating a culture where business innovation and creativity thrive. As the driving force in revitalization, supporting a creative ecosystem will help to attract visitors and create an inclusive community.

The Growing Together steering committee is involved in discussing the shortage of affordable, quality childcare that is directly related to a community’s ability to attract and anchor young parents, strengthen its current and future talent pool, and increase workplace productivity. Growing Together is in support of efforts such as the business-led Norfolk Area Childcare Collaborative that aims to close the gap in available childcare, paving the way for the region and its businesses to grow by retaining and attracting talent. 

Northeast Nebraska Growing Together

214 N. 7th Street, Suite 3 Norfolk, NE 68701