What do economic trends say about life in Hamilton County?

Dear readers,
How many people would you guess are living in Hamilton County, but choose to commute to jobs in places like Grand Island, Lincoln or York? Perhaps the better question is why do people choose that option, and is it a growing trend?
Conversely, how many people do you think live outside the county and commute to work in Aurora or elsewhere in the area? You might be surprised by the numbers.
Some intriguing information was reported recently about economic and demographic trends in Hamilton County and the surrounding area. Since budget cuts, low commodity prices and all things economic are dominating conversations around board rooms and kitchen tables alike, we think the information is worth more than a cursory look.
The News-Register will therefore launch a series beginning next week focused on data from the Nebraska Public Power District’s 2017 Economic and Demographic Trends report. If you haven’t seen it, there is both good news and potential red-flag alerts hidden in the numbers of a detailed 26-page document.
Some of the most alarming data jumps off the page of the retail sales report. “Pull factor” is a term used to measure non-motor vehicle retail sales on a per capita basis. If a community’s number is above 1.0, that particular town is pulling in more consumer spending than the state’s average, per capita. If it is below 1.0, many of those potential sales are leaking to another nearby community. Care to guess what Aurora’s number was in 2017, or that of Grand Island, Hastings, Sutton, Central City, Geneva, Stromsburg and York? And what does that number mean to rural communities and small business owners in a world where Amazon, mobile phone marketing and big-box chains are changing the retail landscape by the day?
This report also offers some must-read information on non-farm wage and salary employment by major economic sector, as well as per-capita personal income comparisons of area counties. In other words, where are new jobs coming from, what jobs are we losing over time and how do the wages compare?
This study provides data on labor force, employment, commuting patterns, population, migration, retail sales and income for the city of Aurora and Hamilton County. I heard a presentation on the findings a few weeks ago and thought the time is right to try and add some perspective to the numbers in hopes of better understanding what it all means.
Our news staff is prepared to roll up its sleeves on this assignment, but we need your help to do it right. Listed here are a number of topics we’ll be exploring in the weeks ahead. If you would like to share your perspective, please call our office or drop us an email.
Subject areas include:
* Families who have migrated to Hamilton County in the past five years from out of state or outstate Nebraska. What brought you here and what were the major factors you considered?
* Families who have migrated away from Hamilton County in the past five years. If you know of family members or former neighbors who have made such a move perhaps they would like to share their story of what made the grass greener elsewhere.
* Workers who make a daily commute to a job in Aurora and Hamilton County, and vice versa.
* Consumers who would like to discuss their shopping habits and how they’ve changed in the past five years, as well as retailers who want to weight in on the challenges of competing in today’s world.
As you can see, there are some serious issues reflected in this report. We invite you to stay tuned to better understand some of the data and what it says about life in Hamilton County.

KURT JOHNSON can be reached at kjohnson@ hamilton.net

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