Rural Exodus: Solving the Problem


Rural communities in Nebraska are struggling to maintain their population numbers as urban areas are seeing a surge in new residents. As we continue our series "Rural Exodus" we take a look at what some community members think should be done to reverse the trend.

No shock that the number one answer is job opportunities...but how do the smaller towns attract businesses? Could there be a hidden element that deters growth?

It's a question that has many Nebraskans scratching their heads, how to re-populate rural Nebraska.

"Do we look at it from a standpoint of attracting people out here whether those people be teachers or health care professionals," asked District 41 state senator Kate Sullivan.

"The answer is really about creating economic opportunities, creating jobs. The ability for people to start their own businesses or to expand small businesses...that's what really built rural Nebraska," said John Crabtree with the Nebraska Center for Rural Affairs.

NU regent Chuck Hassebrook lives in Lyons, Neb. a town of less than a thousand people.

"There's a lot of people still in the town of Lyons, it's a great place to live and I care about the future of that community...I'm hopeful about Lyons but like most rural towns we face some challenges," said Hassebrook.

Could one of the answers of this very tricky puzzle be zoning laws? Currently in Phelps Co. if you live outside of the town or city limits you have to purchase 5 acres of land to live there.

"We just feel like 5 acres is too many acres," said Rod Thorell who lives just outside of Loomis, Neb.

Thorell says that these laws are halting rural growth.

"Our new superintendent came here and wanted to live in the country and she didn't realize she had to buy 5 acres to do it. So basically what the zoning law is saying is if you don't buy 5 acres we don't want you out here," said Thorell.

Phelps county isn't alone, Kearney county mandates five acres as well along with two in Adams county and three acres in Franklin county to name a few.

"Farmers don't want to sell five and buyers don't want to buy five," said Thorell.

Thorell says adding more residents in the area of Loomis will add town essentials and help spur growth.

Some community members are meeting with zoning officials November 20th to talking about changing the zoning laws for those living outside of town.