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Fireworks

Fireworks explode over the Nebraska State Capitol to conclude the Nebraska 150 Celebration on Sept. 22, 2017.

Unveiled last week, Blueprint Nebraska swings for the fences – exactly what the state needs to do going forward to grow its workforce and economy.

The cooperative effort between the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry, University of Nebraska, state government and other stakeholders deserves credit for its ambition. The proposal lays out a roadmap to improve education, apprenticeships, growth industries and much more for the entire state.

After its release, the Journal Star’s Don Walton wrote, “If successfully implemented, the proposed initiatives would create 25,000 jobs and add $15,000 to the annual income of every Nebraskan, the report stated, while bringing 43,000 new 18-to-34-year-old residents to the state by 2030.”

That last part is critical to Nebraska’s future, given its looming workforce shortage. But it will not be easy.

For one, it will require reversing a long-running trend – that of more highly educated young workers leaving the state than entering it on a yearly basis.

David Drozd, a demographer for the Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, told the Omaha World-Herald last year that he was confident the state was annually losing a net of 2,000 people 25 or older with a bachelor’s or graduate degree. Over the course of a decade, that equates to 20,000 Nebraskans – roughly the population of Papillion.

At least some of that has owed to perceptions – and misperceptions – about Nebraska. The oft-repeated “there’s nothing to do here” is clearly untrue, but it requires overturning long-held stereotypes.

To that end, the study proposes a campaign to draw young people to Nebraska and "expand our efforts to promote diversity and inclusion." These goals matter to young workers – hence support by the Lincoln and Omaha chambers of commerce for the bill seeking to outlaw LGBTQ workplace discrimination, which died this spring in the Nebraska Legislature.

From a statistical standpoint, too, this emphasis on diversity is absolutely vital to this plan’s success, as evidenced by the trends among Nebraska’s high school graduates.

Between 2007-08 and 2017-18, the number of white students to graduate from the state’s public high schools fell by 12.3%, while the amount of racial and ethnic minorities to receive a diploma surged by 76.5%, according to the Nebraska Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education.

Without them, Nebraska’s shrinking. The state’s future will be an increasingly diverse one – and that’s a good thing.

Nebraska has a lot to offer young workers – especially those starting families, as evidenced by the number of natives who return to the state with young children. But homecomings alone won’t be enough to fill the highly educated workforce needed in the future.

Accordingly, it’s encouraging to see Nebraska officials have big plans for the coming years. The road ahead won’t be easy, but the state must travel it.

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