How a Small Town Can Compete

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Columbus, Nebraska, has been very successful in building a manufacturing economy. Now the town is trying to understand how it can continue to prosper.


this Daily Yonder story.) But I checked the listings this morning and Columbus-area employers are looking for welders, engineers, salespeople, management, machine operators, retail clerks, instrument technicians, lab techs, crane operators, and lots of jobs in-between.  

Columbus isn’t alone in looking for workers. Many towns across the Great Plains are desperate for workers at the same time that people elsewhere are desperate for work. There are 13 pages worth of jobs on the Nebraska Department of Labor site today.  

We have an ongoing discussion in Columbus about solutions. How we bring people to this rural part of the Plains where the opportunities exist? How do we build a system that helps close that “skills gap” for employers while providing a sustainable standard of living for families?  

That puzzle simply must be solved.

This conversation has also raised questions about how this employment situation has arisen here and, just as importantly, can it last?  If we’re asking people to move to Columbus for jobs that might not exist in a year, well, that wouldn’t show much integrity.

To answer that question, I went right to the source.  I talked with Neal Suess and David Bell, the co-chairs of the Columbus Economic Council.  As the leaders of economic development efforts in the Columbus region, these two gentlemen are on the front lines of job creation in this area.  

I posed the questions to them: Why has manufacturing flourished here in rural Nebraska and what will be the economic driver in our region in the future?