April 11, 2008
600 17th Street
Suite 2020 South
Denver, CO 80202
The Western Nebraska Development Network (WNDN) embarked on a strategic
planning process last fall to address a common issue reflected in each of their
communities: the need to meet Western Nebraska s workforce needs and enhance its
communities by attracting, recruiting and retaining a skilled workforce.
Western Nebraska is often referred to as Nebraska s Panhandle and represents the
western most counties in the state. The area encompasses 14,000 square miles (18
percent of the state) with a population of 90,000 people (5 percent of the state
population). Between 1990 and 2000, seven Western Nebraska counties and 16
communities lost population. Five counties experienced an excess of deaths over births
and seven experienced net out-migration during that same decade.
People do, however migrate to Western Nebraska cities. In fact, Western Nebraska has
been much more successful at creating jobs than it has been at attracting new working
age residents to fill those jobs. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the
region added a total of 1,510 new jobs between the years 2001 and 2005. During the
same period, the potential labor force (persons age 16 to 65 years) declined by 380
Understanding who might and who has come to Western Nebraska is critical as the
WNDN embarks on a concerted effort to source, attract, recruit and retain families to the
area to fill these jobs. The University of Nebraska has focused a targeted research
effort on Western Nebraska to learn more about regional demographics and trends.
The University has completed several phases of a study concentrating on the rural
Great Plains and why people move to these communities. Another study is currently
underway to determine why people move away from these communities. The starting
premise was that rural advocates believed that the quality of life characteristically
perceived as typical of smaller communities and rural regions was more desirable than
those found in urban centers.
Investments have been made in regional and local programs, including some internet
based efforts, to reach potential residents with job information. However, some
communities are beginning to realize that jobs alone may not be enough to attract new
residents to a given community, and stereotypical rural/urban quality of life differences
are now starting to be emphasized alongside economic opportunities in local
recruitment efforts. Full summaries from the University of Nebraska research efforts are
included in the addendum.
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Key Findings from the University of Nebraska Research
Where They Come From
· They come from many different locations 38 different states with most
coming from other parts of Nebraska or adjacent states including Colorado,
Wyoming, South Dakota and Kansas; the majority come from metropolitan
· A slight majority (54 percent) have lived in Nebraska before; 30 percent lived
in their current county before and 38percent in their current community. The
rest (46 percent) have no prior experience with Western Nebraska.
Who They Are
· New residents bring many assets to the region; high levels of education,
children, professional occupation skills, entrepreneurial backgrounds, and
volunteer and community leadership experience.
· Most bring a spouse/partner or children with them, while 25 percent come
· From a statistical point of view, the new residents are better educated, make
more money and have lived in a metropolitan area.
Why They Come
· They want to leave the high cost of living and urban congestion behind and
move to a community with a better quality of life defined by a simpler pace of
life, proximity to relatives, decreased cost of living, increased quality of the
natural environment and higher paying jobs.
· Families cite a better environment to raise children and higher quality schools.
· Job-related considerations are a factor in the decision, but community quality
of life drives their decision to come to Western Nebraska.
What Happens When They Get Here
· The sense of belonging in the community has the strongest relationship; with
an expectation of staying in the community.
· Most new Western Nebraska residents view their communities as friendly,
trusting and supportive; while they might be involved, they are not as involved
in their current community as they were in their previous community.
· Many, especially younger persons, are not planning to stay in their current
community or are not sure of their plans.
It is important to note that there does appear to be somewhat of a backlash by long-
term residents of the communities regarding the arrival of this new type of Western
Nebraskan. First, there is resentment that employers feel the need to recruit from
outside their community and, once recruited, the individual that gets the job receives a
better salary and overall compensation package than what the current residents might
receive. Second, there is concern about the impact of change that these new residents
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might have on the extant community. The cost of living might increase due to the
community shortages of housing, general infrastructure and services. Existing services
and facilities will be overtaxed by the increase in population. And, the general ways of
rural living might be negatively influenced by metropolitan values and behaviors.
Why People Stay is addressed in the next phase of research by the University.
However, one might be able to predict the outcomes from the research based on the
results from the completed research and the observations of experiences of the
WNDN s collective and individual community experiences.
A recent report sponsored by Cabela s states that workforce development in the
Nebraska panhandle, specifically in the areas of recruitment and retention, is in the
early stages of a shift. Research finds that there will always be a trade-off for
individuals who make the choice to raise their families in rural communities as opposed
to larger cities. These rural towns offer a quality of life the city never can.
A Nebraska Department of Labor 2002-2012 Long-term Industry Projects Report, states
that the sectors predicted to have the highest growth include management, education,
administrative, support, arts, entertainment and recreation. Individuals who pursue
these jobs have several key areas of consideration which influence their decisions to
relocate or to remain in a market.
Education: For themselves, the individual looks at a community s ability to afford them
continuing education and professional development, as well as education and/or the
opportunity to learn about interests they have outside of their careers. For their families,
they look at the condition and qualify of education available at local schools and
institutions for higher learning.
Recreation: Personal experiences with local recreation and the area s ability to meet
individual needs. Trends reflect shorter, local pseudo-vacations with family, along with
backyard but also hands-on, physical activities.
Housing: Professionals have higher expectations for the availability of quality homes in
quality neighborhoods. A need is evident to balance this with low-income housing
availability for unskilled laborers.
Health and Wellness: Professionals committed to a healthy lifestyle and expect
availability of dining, shopping and exercise locations to support this lifestyle.
Spending Habits: Disposable income affords opportunity and expectation that there
will be access to niche shopping, lattes, dining and entertainment.
Community Social Factors: New residents desire to connect with the locals, to be
accepted into the social dynamics and to be included in the events of the community.
There is a high level of need by trailing spouses for an outlet and opportunity to
become involved in the local community through events and volunteer activities. A
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balance needs to be developed with the local, long-term residents that might resent the
new comers and the impact realized on their lifestyle.
Members of the WNDN embarked on a strategic planning process to clearly define what
they were trying to accomplish as a network of Western Nebraska communities. The
group engaged in analysis and discussion in response to several key questions:
1. Why do we need people to come to Western Nebraska?
2. What kind of people do we need to come? Or, to stay?
3. Why would these people stay or come to Western Nebraska?
4. What do we need to do to get them to visit? Or, to stay?
After much discussion, analysis and debate, the group decided that they had a
collective goal for their efforts:
To meet Western Nebraska s workforce needs and enhance its communities by
attracting, recruiting and retaining a skilled workforce.
The WNDN then assessed the potential types of individuals that they might target to
achieve this goal. The initial thought was that young adults was the group to target to
best meet their community s short and long-term workforce needs. The group
discussed retirees, baby boomers and other potential groups; each taking into account
the data presented by the University of Nebraska and Cabela s research, as well as
their individual community experiences.
The group determined that there was a critical demographic which they believed would
meet their workforce needs as well as align with what Western Nebraska has to offer to
potential new residents:
Young families with children and parents that have or want to acquire skills to meet
current and future job requirements.
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Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT)
Members of the WNDN embarked on an analysis of Western Nebraska to honestly
assess what their communities collectively and individually offered to satisfy the desired
qualities of potential employees. This was done in the form of a SWOT analysis.
The SWOT analysis provided several development strategies:
1. Identify a target group with specific skills that would most benefit our
communities and focus our efforts toward that group.
2. Differentiate our attracting/recruiting efforts for new residents from our retention
efforts with existing residents.
3. Start from within engage our current residents in a Western Nebraska pride
effort gaining their buy-in and assistance in our retention and recruitment efforts.
4. Assess the collective offerings of our communities in alignment with research
outcomes of desires/needs of targeted groups.
5. Engage community organizations, institutions and community leaders in an
organized effort to fill the gaps of the stated needs of young families and our
6. Package the collective community offerings (add gap closure elements as they
are completed) and implement an outreach effort toward young families with
specific skills in our backyard communities and in targeted markets.
7. Leverage state, regional and specific community efforts to align our efforts and to
maximize our limited resources.
The WNDN then prioritized the necessary efforts and created four subcommittees to
address immediate opportunities identified by the group. These included:
1. Sense of community: This subcommittee was asked to identify visuals and
words that best communicated the positive attributes of rural living ( kid on a
bike , safety, quiet, peace), family values, quality education, good
neighborhoods, forward thinking, economic growth and the opportunities for
2. Great Living/Housing: This subcommittee was asked to secure the regional
housing study and provide the WNDN with an analysis of that study to support
local housing development efforts. In addition, there was an opportunity to
convince local real estate professionals to support the recruiting efforts by
including their listings on the MLS. The subcommittee was going to identify new
development projects throughout Western Nebraska and share the information
with the group for reuse in local recruiting efforts.
3. Great Jobs: This subcommittee was asked to complete a Western Nebraska job
inventory and analysis of the types of skills represented by those jobs. In
addition, they were going to identify local training programs and skills training
partnerships that existed in the area. The team was also going to identify
semi/retiree mentoring programs, high school partnership programs, college
partnerships and investigate trade school recruiting.
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4. Access to Everything: This subcommittee was asked to identify opportunities
to pull together total community offerings; including research of the opportunity
for an integrated internet site, a shared calendar of events, travel time maps,
airport travel access, as well as explore concepts around shopping caravans
and other shared community events. Finally, this group was going to look at
efforts to attract national retail and restaurant chains to the Western Nebraska
This has been an evolutionary process for the WNDN. The individuals represent a very
diverse group of communities from varied backgrounds and areas of responsibility.
Some of the communities are further along than others. The makeup and workforce
needs of each community vary.
There has been a realization that some of the strategies outlined in the session almost
four months ago are better addressed at the local versus the regional level. In fact,
several of the communities have taken ownership of some of the strategies and they
have implemented programs and/or efforts as part of that strategy.
The state of Nebraska is embarking on creation of an integrated job listing website that
should address the larger need for a trusted resource for employers and cities to list
Cabela s is partnering with other organizations and regions, including counties in
adjoining states, to create the High Plains Compass internet site that will help address
the need for a trusted resource for potential/existing citizens to access to learn about
what is available and happening in their communities.
Influencing the name, content and design of these websites presents a real opportunity
for the WNDN to leverage these activities in addressing the needs identified as part of
this strategic planning effort.
However, even with this in mind, the WNDN has come to the conclusion that there is a
need for an integrated marketing campaign and engagement effort that will benefit their
individual and combined efforts.
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Marketing and Communications Recommendations
In Support of Western Nebraska Development Network
Workforce Planning Initiative
To meet Western Nebraska s workforce needs and enhance its communities by
attracting, recruiting and retaining a skilled workforce.
Young families with children and parents that have or want to acquire skills to meet
current and future job requirements.
1. Alumni Families and individuals that have some personal and/or family
connection to Western Nebraska.
3. Adjacent metropolitan communities (awaiting detailed market list from University
of Nebraska research)
d. South Dakota
Key Program Objectives:
1. Ensure critical support and participation from Western Nebraska s leaders,
businesses, community organizations and residents for the talent acquisition and
retention efforts led by the WNDN and local communities.
2. Define and promote Western Nebraska s image and the opportunities to leverage
existing marketing and communication activities, as well as set the framework for
a presentation of the collective Western Nebraska offerings.
3. Gain the support and active participation of long-time and current citizens for the
WNDN and local community s rejuvenation and recruitment efforts.
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Key Program Strategies & Tactics
1. Target Recruiting Efforts: Source from clearly defined markets and targeted
skill sets. Target marketing and communication efforts toward specific markets
from which recruitment and retention efforts have been successful.
a. Get beyond boundary states to specific counties and cities within and
outside of Nebraska. (Detail should be available in University of Nebraska
b. Define collective and individual skill set needs identify in/out-of-state
employers, associations and schools where the right talent can be
2. Attract Potential Talent: Research has outlined the expectations that potential
employees have of the communities that they are considering. Analysis of
Western Nebraska resulted in some gaps in what is desired and what is
available. Creating a brand for Western Nebraska that can deliver the promises
presented by that brand, requires a concerted effort to fill the gaps.
a. Give it a name (that resonates without explanation). Move beyond internal
or historical labels (i.e. Panhandle, Buffalo Commons) and call it what it is
Western Nebraska. Align all references to the area accordingly.
b. Give it an identity. Create a common look, feel and distinct slogan that
captures the essence of the area and will resonate with existing and new
residents (a sampling of slogans from other nearby markets is included in
c. Reflect the identity. Embark on a Community (or, Regional) Beautification
Campaign where the external styles of the communities reflect their
internal culture (i.e. worn down school buildings w/excellent teaching, dirty
Main Street façade with home town businesses, undefined Main Street
with town center resources).
d. Leverage business and professional relationships. Encourage recruitment
efforts and campaigns by local businesses to reflect the name and identify
of Western Nebraska, and to include the region s website and collateral
materials. Request active sponsorship and participation in recruiting
e. Media tour. Embark on a regional and target market public relations tour
for every major regional event. Target lifestyle, employment opportunities,
business expansion and other story ideas that support the overall
positioning strategy for the region.
Fill the Gap Strategies
a. Infrastructure enhancement. Combine the collective efforts of city officials,
organizations and leaders to recruit national entertainment, restaurants,
shops and other lifestyle entities to the region. If unsuccessful, identify a
restaurant/shop that has been successful in one community and provide
start-up/seed money to expand operations to other communities.
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b. Leverage repeatable solutions. Design a regional infrastructure strategy
to consolidate efforts for repeatable solutions (i.e. community center
design, multi-community construction contracts, bulk purchases, rotating
equipment and programs.)
4. Recruit the Talent: Close the deal now that talent has been identified and
expressed an interest in moving to Western Nebraska.
a. Leverage state-wide or regional website development (CareerLink and
High Plains Compass). Define a process and protocol for sustainability of
each site including ownership, vigorous content management and
inclusiveness that are marketing/content vs. technically driven.
Aggressively market the launch of each site within each city, throughout
the region and in targeted markets.
b. Design a collective Homegrown campaign to target Nebraska alumni
including a repeatable solution for reunion marketing efforts, current
resident ambassador programs and direct marketing efforts with recent
c. Consolidate recruitment events. Leverage limited staff and resources to
share the participation burden for various, targeted recruitment events.
Create a recruitment calendar to include target market job fairs, vocational
school/college recruitment events and high school career day events.
Represent the Western Nebraska and individual city opportunities at these
events regardless of home communities.
d. Business partnerships. Identify opportunities to incorporate Western
Nebraska recruiting strategies, messaging and materials in local business
recruiting efforts. Propose shared funding opportunities for the
marketing/communication effort including partnerships through matching
funds for state grants. Create high school and college internship
programs to encourage retention of current young citizens.
e. New and/or social media engagement. Develop an outreach initiative by
leveraging new media (blogs, Face Book, MySpace) to keep existing and
potential employees informed on region and community events and
happenings. If not already available, make local newspapers available
online or via direct mail to their current markets and post relevant media
coverage to the news sections of CareerLink and High Plains Compass.
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5. Retain the Talent: The cultural fit of an employee is often as important as the
skills and qualifications assessment. Research shows a propensity for departure
of residents whose perception or experiences of a rural lifestyle don t meet their
expectations. Keeping existing talent and retaining new talent might be the most
critical strategy in meeting the overarching workforce goals of the region.
a. Positive citizen ambassadors. Engage current residents and gain their
support of the business/future survival case for bringing in new residents
to Western Nebraska communities. Clearly define the role that they play
in the future success of the region and its communities. Address concerns
and define any additional strategies required to address those concerns.
b. Organization newcomer outreach. Engage community organizations and
associations to expand current programs and create new programs that
address the needs of new residents (children s programs, trailing spouse
programs, cultural programs, etc). Benchmark and duplicate existing
programs already in place in other markets and/or provide transportation
to other community programs already in place.
c. Visionary and engaged leadership. Embark on a leadership
communications plan to inform and apprise citizens of the long-term vision
and strategy for the region and its communities. Identify a speaker (or
appoint a top community leader) as spokesperson for the WNDN effort.
Address the research findings that new citizens want to believe that their
community has a future. Provide leadership with common messages and
training to enhance their effectiveness in representing the brand. Host
town hall meetings and/or coordinate leadership attendance at community
events and meetings to deliver the message.
d. Access to everything. Leverage the local media, CareerLink and High
Plains Compass to keep residents informed of the many activities,
opportunities and developments in the region. Influence media stories
and web design to include a collective calendar of events , drive times
and entertainment events/venues.
e. Regional events. Identify and rotate the coordination/hosting of a
quarterly regional event to expand the connectivity between the
communities while leveraging limited resources to deliver major events to
the region s residents (i.e. 4th of July Celebration, Holiday Winter Land,
Spring Winery Tour, Summer Music Festival).
f. Infrastructure expansion. Identify items inhibiting the resident travel
necessary to meet their needs and desires including regional bus service
and expanded flights to commercial airports.
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Funding options to implement the tactical items listed for each strategy can be limited
and might require creative solutions to secure the necessary funding. These options
might include state grants, community grants, business/organization partnerships, tax
funding, and/or citizen charges.
Creative funding solutions might be pursued, however, for major strategic initiatives.
For example, HGTV hosts many programs for renovation. Approaching these programs
to assist with community beautification is a possibility. The Green Movement across
America might create an opportunity for a transportation company to test a new green
bus or system of transportation in the region. National cultural arts foundations might
provide funding to bring nationally renowned performances to regional communities.
Marketing and communication departments at state universities often look for
opportunities that can become major projects for their students.
In addition, review of the State s economic development site reveals, that many of the
concepts presented in this plan are currently being funded in other markets, and there
are many items in this plan that represent an opportunity for the same types of grants.
It should be noted, however, that most of these grants also include matching funds from
a local business, organization or collection of individuals.
· Scottsbluff/Gering: $70k to market their new workforce recruitment
· Geneva: $5600 Come Home to Fillmore Alumni outreach effort
· Ord & Valley: 20k to market their jobs website
· Gibbon County: $23k Educate and train their residents
· Brown & Reya Paha Counties: $23k to educate and train residents about
creating rural tourism
· Knox County & Creighton: $16k school and business positive collaboration
· Brown & Keya: $60k to educate residents about job opportunities
· Western Nebraska: $35.5k High Plains Website
· Auburn/Seward North Platte: $55k workforce development campaign
· Fordyce/Hartington: $20k Bring People Back Campaign
· Elkhorn River Valley Business Development: $5k planning study for small
· Thayer County Entrepreneur Incentive:$10k design strategy addressing come
home to work/live
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Marketing Slogans from Other Markets
· Nebraska: Possibilities Endless
· Lincoln: Prairie Capital City and Community of Opportunity and 5 Star
· Sidney: Small Town Values. Big time Opportunities
· Scottsbluff: Share the Good Life
· Chadron: Opportunities as Endless as the Expanse of the Skies or Where
Tradition Blends with Innovation
· Gordan: What You re Looking For
· Kimball: The High Point of Nebraska
· Kansas: Achieve More
· Wyoming: Live the Legend or The New West, a place good for Families and for
· Laramie, WY: Partners in Progress
· Fort Collins: Where Renewable is A Way of Life (Pending Final approval of
their Branding initiative) or Adventure Casual
· Rapid City: Black Hills of South Dakota
· Denver: Mile High City
Possibilities for Western Nebraska
· Plentiful Opportunities. Rewarding Experience. Simple Lifestyle.
· It Takes a Special Pioneering Spirit to Live Here.
· Living the good Life on the Western Plains of Nebraska
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Moving to the Rural Great Plains Point of Origin Differences in the Decision Making
Process, report sponsored by a grant from the USDA/CSREES national Research
Initiative Rural Development. Participants included University of Nebraska/Nebraska
Rural initiative, Panhandle Research and Extension Center, Department of Agricultural
and Applied Economics, Center for Applied rural innovation and Center for Rural
Nebraska Panhandle Employment: Recruitment and Retention, sponsored by
Cabela s and developed by Ridge and Range Publishing & Consulting.
Nebraska Workforce Development, Second quarter, 2007 Nebraska Job Vacancy
Survey. Developed by the Department of Labor.
Living & Working, The Nebraska Department of Economic Development website.
State and city websites of Western Nebraska and adjoining communities.
Meeting Minutes WNDN Strategic Planning Sessions led and facilitated by Pamela
Krider, GBSM, Inc. 600 17th St. Suite 2020S Denver, CO 80202, Pamela Krider 303-
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