The same conversation is echoing across the Cornhusker State. With Nebraska’s unemployment rate consistently tracking at 3 percent and lower, there are precious few people to fill the thousands of jobs available in our state. Regardless of where you look — manufacturers, trades, health care, hospitality, agriculture — there are critical vacancies and an absence of people to fill them — along with the positions that would be created if more companies could expand like they wish.

Nebraska’s lack of an adequate workforce is holding back our state.

There is an assortment of responses. Factories and construction firms are working with local high schools and technical colleges to train young people for jobs in manufacturing and construction. Health care is hunting outside Nebraska for skilled professionals from other states and countries. Likewise, some hospitality and agricultural operations are looking to import foreign laborers with temporary work visas.

These are examples of ambitious creativity, but the focus seems to slant more toward what companies need as opposed to what their would-be employees need. Potential employees know what they want. They’re looking for communities that provide health care, education, affordable housing, recreation and child care

Did they say child care? That’s right. Finding good, nurturing care for their children is one of the largest challenges facing young couples, many of whom would be two-paycheck families if they had the choice. Communities that can provide child care and early childhood education help young couples solve a huge challenge. If the kids can be cared for, the community gains two people for the workforce, not just one because a parent must stay home with the children.

When young parents know the community they’re considering as their next home can help care for and educate their children, it’s a big plus.

Interest in early child care and education is rapidly spreading. This blooming interest is represented in the Plambeck Early Childhood Education Center that’s opening soon at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, and in participation at events such as the Thriving Children, Families and Communities Conference held in September in Kearney.

In 2018, the conference’s first year, nearly 300 civic, business and education leaders from 74 Nebraska communities attended. The head count grew to 400 people from 92 communities at the 2019 conference. Participants discussed how high-quality early education and child care can become powerful economic development tools in Nebraska.

Imagine attracting young families to our communities and then keeping them here. That’s what Nebraska always has been about — a great place to raise a family. Today, if we can provide care and education, young parents will be raising their families here — and helping to grow our state.

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