Though their career paths may have led them far from the Sandhills or Great Plains, for many native Nebraskans there’s truly no place like home.
Now, a new initiative aims to bring those who have moved across the country back to the state to establish and grow companies and careers in rapidly expanding fields.
In the new venture, driven by the Center for Rural Research and Development at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, the center will partner with the University of Nebraska Alumni Association and software company Xpanxion to recruit alumni back to rural Nebraska communities in professions such as technology, law, health care and other high-growth sectors.
Called “rural sourcing,” this concept relates to existing and startup companies strategically locating their operations in rural areas to reduce labor costs and take advantage of a sometimes-untapped talent pool.
“This project aims to reverse the rural brain drain in our region,” said Shawn Kaskie, director of UNK’s Center for Rural Research and Development. “In the pilot phase, we will offer alumni a variety of options to return their families and expertise back to rural Nebraska.”
The first phase of the two-year project will involve building on existing research and exploring lifestyle and career preferences of alumni who have moved away from Nebraska. Then, additional research will examine the processes and motivations for alumni who have moved back to rural Nebraska and are employed in the high-growth occupations. The data will direct the communication and education strategies for participating alumni who will receive information on current job openings or assistance for starting or buying a business in rural areas.
Funding for the project comes from seed grants that are helping to help launch the work of the University of Nebraska’s Rural Futures Institute. The project is part of the institute’s competitive Research and Engagement Grants program. The Rural Futures Institute exists to mobilize the resources and talents of the University of Nebraska and its partners, including community partners like Xpanxion, to create knowledge and action that supports rural people and places in achieving unique paths to their desired futures.
Xpanxion is headquartered in Atlanta and has offices in Kearney, Loup City and Ames, Iowa. The company in 2010 was awarded the university’s Walter Scott Entrepreneurial Business Award for its strong record of engagement with the university. Many UNK students intern at Xpanxion and are hired as full-time employees after graduation; the company also has partnered with UNK in developing a software quality assurance course. Nebraska native Paul Eurek is president and founder of Xpanxion LLC, and serves as board chairman for Invest Nebraska Inc.
“Demand for Xpanxion’s rural sourcing services in software development and testing is growing rapidly, and often must be met by filling positions from outside the state,” Eurek said. “The project will allow Xpanxion to hire more Nebraska natives into high-tech jobs.”
Eurek said he hopes the partnership will ultimately utilize Nebraska alumni resources to fill senior executive positions for Invest Nebraska’s portfolio companies.
Shelley Zaborowski, associate executive director of the Nebraska Alumni Association, said out-of-state alumni are interested in rural sourcing opportunities.
“We regularly hear from alumni who would like to move back to their home state if only the right jobs were available,” Zaborowski said. “The rural sourcing project provides a channel for alumni to learn about such opportunities, and for many additional opportunities to be created.”