Columbus Telegram - Week2

No, our rural-based community isn't dying

The latest population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate an overall continuing trend in Nebraska of urban growth and a steady rural decline.

Douglas, Sarpy and Lancaster counties, Nebraska’s three largest counties, all hit record population levels as of July 1 of last year and now account for more than 55 percent of the 1.93 million state residents, also an all-time high.

Interestingly enough, Colfax and Platte join Dodge and Washington along the Highway 30 corridor as counties that have achieved population growth in both the full 2000s decade and here in the 2010s. But, Colfax and Platte both suffer from outmigration, with each having more than 1,000 more people move out of their county than move in from other parts of the U.S., according to Research Coordinator/Census expert David Drozd of the Center for Public Affairs Research. Only six Nebraska counties have a higher level of net domestic outmigration (Dawson, Hall, Dakota, Lincoln, Scotts Bluff, and Madison), he noted.

There are several general misconceptions regarding smaller communities like Schuyler that hinder it because we’re considered “the smaller guy.” Among them are “there’s nothing to do,” “there are no shopping options,” “there are no restaurants” and “small communities don’t offer anything special.”

But in the last few years, Colfax County has rallied together and established itself as not only a rural community but one that is on the rise. 

Numerous local businesses have come or are coming to our area, as the Sun has documented. Schuyler Economic Development recently won the 2018 Innovative Project of the Year award from the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority for efforts in getting housing projects underway locally.

But a few things that our community has more of that perhaps often get overlooked: We have unmatched heart, grit, compassion and determination. 

When the historic flood devastated our area, we weren’t divided, we didn’t fold or buckle. We rallied, together. Community leaders from different agencies put egos and job titles aside to work together. Residents from all walks of life also helped one another.

We’re not just Nebraska Strong, we’re Schuyler Strong.

A big local issue right now is retaining its young people. We still need to figure out what we can do to show our young people this is a thriving community they can come back to after school to work, live and raise their families. Perhaps there isn’t a perfect answer, but efforts are underway.

There are dozens of other local service groups, nonprofits and other efforts one can get involved with that organize different community events, are addressing housing problems and entertainment options.

It boils down to this: Get involved.

If we want Colfax County to thrive and be a great place for generations to come, we have to do something about it now.

We know Schuyler and Colfax County as a whole are special, but we owe it to this great place we call home to prove it. If we want to help revitalize rural Nebraska, that means we have to get involved with local efforts and talk with our state leaders, fight for our future generations. We need to be part of the solution and not wait for one to fall out of thin air. People are what makes this community tick.

Nebraska can’t and won’t be strong without its rural backbone made by communities like ours.