We’ve all had our chuckle at our state’s newest tourism slogan, “Nebraska: It’s not for everyone.”
You know why we laugh. “Great American Desert.” “Flyover country.” Folks “back East,” and in America’s largest cities, have dissed and dismissed our part of America for two centuries.
So we grumble about our fellow citizens on the East Coast, whether we mean the nation’s Eastern Seaboard (New York, Washington, etc.) or our own (if you choose to define Nebraska’s Missouri River shore as such).
And we look at each other and say they don’t appreciate the problems we face — or what makes life worth living outside Omaha, Sarpy County or Lincoln.
It is. Worth living out here in greater Nebraska, we mean.
Here’s some food for thought for 2019: How well are we proving it, right now, to our own young people?
And how willing are we to do what it takes so young non-Nebraskans might choose to live here — or today’s young Nebraskans might in time come home?
The Telegraph reported Dec. 14 on a discussion between North Platte High School’s Student Advisory Council and Superintendent Ron Hanson. The topic was the most recent forum here by Blueprint Nebraska, a statewide effort to chart a positive course for our state’s economic growth.
That forum’s topics, unsurprisingly, included how to plug the “brain drain” of young Nebraskans leaving for larger, supposedly greener pastures.
We’ll quibble about Hanson’s limitation of “brain drain” to students with ACT scores of 30 or higher who choose non-Nebraska higher education. Any young Nebraskan has gifts that can help his or her hometown, home county or home state prosper for another generation.
Besides, “brain drain” isn’t just about Nebraskans leaving Nebraska. It’s about rural Nebraskans choosing to live in Lincoln or Omaha — whether forever or just for a while.
How do we get them to come back, eventually if not immediately?
Or — this is a really risky question — how much do we really want them, or anyone new, to live here?
One NPHS student said North Platte seems to lack the tech-savvy jobs our school system prepares them to face. Another suggested our job market is too focused on blue-collar jobs, though one rightly expects a sizable chunk of them in the home of Earth’s largest rail classification yard.
A couple of politically minded students saw little prospect for becoming president from here, though one wonders if they know that North Platte has produced three governors (Keith Neville, Roy Cochran, Robert Crosby) and nearly a fourth (Bob Phares) over the last century.
And one or two offered the “there’s nothing to do here” comment — though we’ve noticed that kids from Omaha or Denver themselves dream of Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, etc. And youths from those cities dream of London, Paris, Tokyo and such. (One wonders if Tokyo kids dream of the moon.)
But a couple of Student Advisory Council members recognized our region’s best hope for renewing itself. Many of those tech-savvy employers let workers live where they want, as long as they’re wired into the world.
And one member, who has to leave to train in her preferred field, came here from another state. She likes it here. And she would — given the opportunity — consider coming back.
Brain drains need not be forever. Unless we prefer to discourage people from other places. Or discourage our own youths from coming home.
Every community needs a healthy mix of vital services, job opportunities and decent, affordable housing if it is to thrive rather than merely survive. North Platte and our neighboring towns have work to do in these areas. Is it worth our trouble?
Yes. We don’t believe any Nebraska community need be a lost cause. But North Platte, sitting at the junction of two major border-to-border highways in the middle of the “lower 48,” surely has too many advantages to give up on itself. Sadly, some among us suggest that very thing.
We cannot guarantee all our young people will come home. But we owe them the best start we can give them nonetheless — because they’re our kids. Right now, while we have them, we can make sure they’re proud of and appreciate where they’re from.
Then they might come back — whether they’re 25, 52 or 77.
We would hate to see us so limit our invitation to share “The Good Life” that the “Great American Desert” or “flyover country” becomes our own tragic, self-fulfilling prophecy.
So we’re “not for everyone.” We could be. And if we aren’t, that’s their loss.
We wish all Nebraskans, and those who wish they were, a happy, prosperous 2019.