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, Platte County hit a new all-time population high in 2018 (33,363). It is one of five counties that have not only grown in both the early 2000s and early 2010s, but has done so at a faster pace so far this decade, according to Research Coordinator/Census expert David Drozd of the Center for Public Affairs Research that is based out of University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Platte and Colfax 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, Platte and Colfax 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., Drozd said. 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 Columbus 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, Columbus has rallied together and established itself as not only a rural community but one that is on the rise. As our three “Power & Progress” editions published earlier this year show (you can read them all on our website now), so much is happening.
Columbus Community Hospital has commenced a massive renovation and expansion, work is underway on the new city police and fire departments, multiple and much-needed housing projects have been launched and viaducts have come to fruition. A state-of-the-art Columbus High School opened up just a few years ago, as did the nearby Wellness Center.
Numerous local businesses of all kinds have opened, offering new opportunities to local people. Other longtime businesses have stayed here for decades and continue to make investments in our area by hiring more employees and through expansion efforts. Loup Power District one of several longtime businesses building a new facility after decades here.
But a few things that our community has more of that perhaps often get overlooked: We have unmatched heart, grit, compassion and determination. Columbus’ slogan, which can be found on the outskirts of town for all to see, says it best – we’re the city of “Power & Progress.”
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.
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In one instance, a person lost his life. Late Columbus farmer James Wilke will undoubtedly go down as a hero for his efforts in trying to help rescue another.
We’re not just Nebraska Strong, we’re Columbus 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.
The Columbus Area Future Fund is a nonprofit initiative supported by numerous residents who are working to make the community better for decades to come. Members have provided grants to support numerous projects and organizations, such as for establishing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) curriculum in all three Columbus area high schools and the development of a first-of-its-kind Columbus Inclusive Playground at Lost Creek Elementary School (giving children of all abilities a safe place to play and enjoy time together).
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 Columbus to thrive and be a great place for generations to come, we have to do something about it now.
“I think if you just sit back and wait for someone else to do it, then you’re missing a huge opportunity to leave your mark and to shape (Columbus) how you want to see it shaped,” said resident Dee Hanson, who is involved with numerous local initiatives and nonprofit efforts, in a previously published “Community Champions” story.
We know Columbus and Platte 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.