Date of this Version
Results from the 1999 Nebraska Rural Poll indicated that the future of Nebraska’s rural communities is of continuing concern and interest. When asked their preferences for the future, the majority of rural Nebraskans indicated they would prefer to see the smallest communities continue to exist, an evenly dispersed rural population, and the traditional variety of businesses in rural communities. Yet, less than one-half expected these trends to actually occur in the future. Given that, how do rural Nebraskans feel about their community and the services available? Which economic development strategies do they feel would be effective in their community? Do their perceptions differ by the size of their community, the region in which they live or their occupation?
This report details results of 4,536 responses to the 2000 Nebraska Rural Poll, the fifth annual effort to take the pulse of rural Nebraskans. Respondents were asked a series of questions about their community. Trends are examined by comparing data from the four previous polls to this year’s results. In addition to those items, respondents were asked to rate how effective various economic development strategies would be for their communities as well as which of these they would be willing to pay additional taxes for. For all questions, comparisons are made among different subgroups of the respondents, e.g., comparisons by community size, region, age, occupation, etc. Based on these analyses, some key findings emerged:
• The proportion of rural Nebraskans believing their community has remained the same has increased over time. In 1996, 38 percent felt their community had stayed the same. This has increased to 50 percent in 2000. The proportion believing their community has changed for the better has decreased from 38 percent in 1996 to 33 percent this year. Similarly, the proportion believing their community has changed for the worse has decreased over time (from 23 percent to 18 percent).
• Persons living in larger communities were more likely than those living in smaller communities to believe their community has changed for the better during the past year. Approximately 40 percent of those living in communities with populations of 5,000 or more believed their community had improved during the past year, while only 21 percent of those living in communities with less than 500 people shared this opinion.
• Respondents living in the Panhandle were more likely than those living in other parts of the state to believe their community had changed for the better. Forty-one percent of the Panhandle residents believed their community had changed for the better during the past year, compared to only 26 percent of those living in the North Central region.
• The majority of rural Nebraskans believe their communities are friendly, trusting and supportive. Sixty-eight percent view their community as friendly, 59 percent say it is trusting and 60 percent rate their community as being supportive.
• Over one-third of rural Nebraskans are dissatisfied with the following services and amenities in their community: entertainment, retail shopping, restaurants, city/village government and streets. Services that had the highest satisfaction ratings included library services, parks and recreation, education (K - 12) and basic medical care services.
• Persons living in smaller communities were more likely than those living in larger communities to report being dissatisfied with the law enforcement in their community. Forty percent of the persons living in communities with less than 500 people were dissatisfied with their community’s law enforcement, while only 22 percent of those living in communities with populations of 5,000 or more shared this opinion.
• Only three percent of the respondents are planning to move from their community in the next year. This proportion has remained fairly stable over the past three years. Of those planning to move, 52 percent were planning to stay in Nebraska, with 15 percent planning to move to either Lincoln or Omaha and 37 percent planning to move to some other part of the state. Forty-eight percent were planning to leave the state.
• At least one-half of rural Nebraskans believe the following development strategies would be effective in their communities: enhancing the educational system (K - 12), developing affordable housing, providing loans to small businesses and entrepreneurs, and developing distance learning opportunities. At least one-third thought that developing retail shopping centers and developing the community into a residential community would be ineffective strategies for their community.
• Persons living in larger communities were more likely than those living in smaller communities to believe that most of the strategies would be effective for their community. However, residents of smaller communities were more likely than residents in larger communities to believe that developing their community into a residential community would be effective.
• Some regional differences were detected in the perceived effectiveness of most of the development strategies. The overall pattern did not differ dramatically by region, though. Enhancing the educational system and developing affordable housing were seen as important strategies across all five regions. However, promoting tourism ranked fairly high in terms of its effectiveness in the Panhandle, North Central and South Central regions; but was ranked much lower by those in the Northeast and Southeast regions. Also, developing industrial parks was ranked fairly high by Southeast residents but was ranked much lower by those in the Panhandle and North Central regions. Finally, the strategy of developing residential communities was viewed more positively by those in the Southeast region in comparison to those living in the other four regions.
• Approximately one-third of the respondents indicated they were unwilling to pay additional taxes for any of the strategies listed. Of those that chose at least one strategy they were willing to pay for, 61 percent reported they would pay additional taxes for enhancing the educational system (K - 12) in their community. Approximately one-third were willing to pay for developing affordable housing in their community (34%) and emphasizing job creation in nonagricultural industries (30%).