Thriving Index

Quality of Life

main street in a small town

The Nebraska Thriving Index is the first economic and quality of life benchmarking tool for rural Nebraska. Developed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Bureau of Business Research and the College of Business & Technology at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, the Index allows Nebraska’s eight rural regions to see how they are doing in important areas including education and skill, growth and renewal, infrastructure, quality of life and much more, as compared to similar areas across the upper Midwest.

The Thriving Index gives economic development professionals, community leaders and others interested in the success of rural Nebraska a means of identifying areas in which their regions are thriving, as well as where they have room for growth. Ultimately, the Thriving Index can help community leaders develop strategies to build a better future.

cover of 2020 report

Read the Index

The Nebraska Thriving Index consists of an annual print report (below) and an annually updated online interactive comparison tool. The report provides context and general summaries of patterns and trends.

View the 2020 index View the 2019 Corrected index

Comparison Regions

The research team identified relevant comparison regions against which Nebraska regions could benchmark. The regions selected were the most similar to each of the eight Nebraska regions identified; comparison regions might be in Nebraska or in another state in the region.

In total, the team considered 85 regions located in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming. Outside of Nebraska, USDA Economic Development Administration regions were utilized.

2020 Comparison Regions

Appendices

The research team identified relevant comparison regions against which Nebraska regions could benchmark. The regions selected were the most similar to each of the eight Nebraska regions identified; comparison regions might be in Nebraska or in another state in the region.

2020 Appendices

Interactive Comparison Tool

History and Methodology

For years, urban areas have used comparison studies to see how they were doing relative to peer cities that shared similar population sizes, industry bases and other attributes. Nothing similar existed for rural Nebraska, so in 2019, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Bureau of Business Research developed the Thriving Index.

Development of Nebraska Regions

One of the first steps in developing the Nebraska Thriving Index was to ensure Nebraska regions were defined in a way that recognized existing regional boundaries, while also considering current and future trends in the state. To do this, NU researchers with advanced knowledge of the state considered existing regional categorizations such as:

  • Nebraska Department of Labor Economic Development Regions
  • Economic Development Administration Economic Development Districts
  • Nebraska Extension Rural Prosperity Nebraska Accountability Regions
  • Additional information from the Nebraska Department of Labor

Using these regional assignments as a starting point, the team developed nine regions: eight rural regions and one non-rural region that included the seven counties included in Nebraska’s two largest metropolitan statistical areas. The final regional classifications were largely driven by researchers’ understanding of current commuting patterns between counties, as well as an understanding of current population trends.

The state’s major metropolitan areas, Omaha and Lincoln, were purposefully not included since they already have indicator reports — Omaha Barometer and the Lincoln Economic Dashboard.

The regions used in the Thriving Index are:

North 81

Madison, Pierce, Platte and Stanton

Northeast

Antelope, Boone, Burt, Cedar, Colfax, Cuming, Dodge, Knox, Nance, Thurston and Wayne

Panhandle

Banner, Box Butte, Cheyenne, Dawes, Deuel, Garden, Kimball, Morrill, Scottsbluff, Sheridan and Sioux

Sandhills

Blaine, Boyd, Brown, Cherry, Custer, Garfield, Grant, Greeley, Holt, Hooker, Keya Paha, Loup, Rock, Thomas, Valley and Wheeler

Siouxland

Dakota and Dixon

Southeast

Butler, Fillmore, Gage, Jefferson, Johnson, Nemaha, Otoe, Pawnee, Polk, Richardson, Saline, Thayer and York

Southwest

Arthur, Chase, Dawson, Dundy, Frontier, Furnas, Gosper, Hayes, Hitchcock, Keith, Lincoln, Logan, McPherson, Perkins and Red Willow

Tri-Cities

Adams, Buffalo, Clay, Franklin, Hall, Hamilton, Harlan, Howard, Kearney, Merrick, Nuckolls, Phelps, Sherman and Webster

Development of comparison regions

The research team identified relevant comparison regions against which Nebraska regions could benchmark. Comparison regions might be in Nebraska or in another state in the region. In total, the team considered 85 regions located in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming.