Nebraska's Leaders Overlook the 'Systemic' Solution to Brain Drain. Why?

Brain drain could be solved if Nebraska's movers and shakers simply asked themselves five basic questions about attracting workers:

1) Who EXACTLY is the target audience?

2) What do they want in a career and lifestyle?

3) How are they different from most of the city council members and business owners who dominate local civic investment decisions?

4) Are we willing to create the product they want to buy, no matter what it costs?

5) What will we do over the next 10 years if we fail to move forward now?

Question: If you were inclined to start a new company, which of these two elements would you focus on first: 1) the product? 2) the end user?

If you chose number 1, you're wrong. But that's what Nebraska's civic officials are doing as they discuss the usage of Federal Covid relief (ARPA) funds. They're discussing canals, sports arenas, exemptions from vaccines, trails and much more.

But as I listen to the senators fuss over process, budgets and 'product specs,' I don't hear anything about who the target audience is!

They assume that everyone is pretty much like them and would appreciate their pet project. How naive.

I did hear two senators admit that "We don't really know the best use for this money, so let's put it aside for the time being."

I am stunned that these intelligent people have been listening to Governor Ricketts that last several years as he repeated again and again, "The biggest problem we have is related to population. Taxes are a problem. Innovation is a problem. But our very low growth is the core issue. We need workers - from laborers to knowledge workers and professionals. Without those workers, we can't attract employers - a critical situation! We must grow this state!"

In January, Governor Ricketts talked a lot about tax reform. Then he talked about health and water. But he ended his State of the State speech by saying, "Let's grow this state!"

But nobody seems to know how to grow Nebraska. And they are strangely uninformed about 50 million young knowledge workers who are eager to work and live in communities who have attracted creative, innovative companies - organizations that respect the skills these 'UrbaNatural' workers have acquired.

In January, I had the privilege of listening to Senator Hilkemann speak enthusiastically about being a Senator in Lincoln. He talked about a few of the projects he thought were particularly worthy for ARPA funding, then invited questions.

"Senator," I said, "given the fact that a billion dollars in tax funds are lost every decade here in Nebraska because 2500 to 3000 well educated young folks leave the state every year, do you know of any initiatives that encompass the entire state that are designed to solve this brain drain problem? I'm talking about big picture solutions to this population problem we have and the fact that our best youth are leaving the state in droves despite the fact that there are over 24,000 jobs available that can't be filled?"

The senator dropped his head and seemed to reflect on the question. The room was quiet.

Finally..."I don't think so, no."


The state's target audience comprises 38% of all of America's citizens. They are mostly in their twenties and thirties, but there are people in their seventies that agree with them.

They have special interest in restoring old buildings and creating eclectic interiors and exteriors. They understand the power of contrasting colors, materials and surfaces as well as contrasting points of view.

They are eclectic.

They also care a great deal about interesting experiences (not money) and self actualization, even spiritual psychology.

Demographer Paul Ray 'found' these people first. Then they were rediscovered by Richard Florida. They were called Transmoderns at first, then Cultural Creatives.

We call them UrbaNaturals because they blend opposite worldviews into their homes and into their minds. The word 'urban' suggests industrial and dynamic. The word 'natural' is similar to 'rural' in that it suggests organic, serene, slow. When combined, these two opposite words define what America is becoming as it leave traditionalism behind.

They are very bright and have mostly great jobs. They enjoyed remote working greatly.

However, they don't obsess about money unlike other cohorts in our society.

These young people have their own values and priorities. Many of Nebraska's leaders don't understand what they believe in or what they will purchase. Thus, it's impossible to sell them your company or community.

This is the fundamental piece that is being overlooked in most discussions about what to create or avoid in our community, neighborhood or state.

To take the UrbaNatural point of view still further, review the research, below and apply it to what Nebraska's leaders don't want to talk about because they don't know what to create and don't know what to sell. The more they talk about priority projects, the more confused they are about WHO THE BUYER IS AND WHAT THE BUYER WANTS TO BUY.

This is why an economic developer said to a roomful of professionals: "Top tier students don't even THINK about Nebraska. We have no credibility with them. We HAVE to have these people in our state! Does anybody have any good ideas???"

There are three or four good ideas discussed below. They have been offered to the state's leaders over the last few months. Most are too busy to recognize the profound importance of the data, the gesture and the size of the opportunity that has been given to us.


In late 2019, I conducted research with young grads in Lincoln who were determined to leave the state. This is what I learned in a nutshell. Every point they made tells us quite clearly what we - the entire state of Nebraska - must do and do now:

  1. They want to work for business owners who are not afraid to innovate, try new things and listen carefully to what today's young grads suggest, particularly in regards to 'digital transformation' and 'social responsibility.'

  2. These same folks are not interested in hierarchy, closed job definitions and unwillingness to learn. If that's the style of the employer culture in Nebraska, they'll simply leave and leave quickly, heading for places where the Boss acts differently.

  3. They want to live downtown in energetic, hip, dense environments where sustainability is practiced, there's a lot of greenery, design is almost everything and a resident can walk to work.

  4. A researcher suggested this final piece to this talent attraction system: Business succession is chaotic and unproductive. FuturePro is a new system embedded into this NEWbraska + civic revitalization platform that streamlines succession and ensures that every company has a future even as the current owner phases out.

Bottom line: Nebraska is way off in its strategic approach to 'growing the state' as Governor Ricketts has implored all of us to do. Legislators need to start over by asking, "Who do we want to live here? What do they like and dislike? How do we make a product that appeals specifically to THEM? Are we prepared to stick with the audience and THEIR vision, not OUR vision?"

This is marketing 101, people. Often, the best marketing ideas come from outside. Senators, Chamber leaders, economic developers...all of them need to look outside. That's where the REAL good life resides.

Author Lynn Hinderaker has transformed five industries in his career including the development and promotion of the first Value Menu in the history of fast food for Taco Bell's ad agency 30 years ago. He's a speaker, a strategist and a founding partner of NEWbraska Network. Contact him for consulting support or any event you are planning. 402-208-5519

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