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Returning 'home' more than matter of local economics

Nobody at the Nebraska Department of Economic Development is reading Thomas Wolfe these days.

Wolfe wrote the novel "You Can't Go Home Again."

The state eco devo crowd begs to differ.

Instead, they are making the case to Nebraska expatriates that the best place to live, work and raise a family is a ZIP Code starting with 68 or 69 -- home as we call it in these parts. ("These parts" is an accepted geographical reference in these parts.)

The recruiters are serious, too. They have teamed with alumni associations from state colleges and universities. They are working with MoveBackToNebraska.com, a Web site devoted to convincing talented natives that there is more to life than oceans, mountains and subways. They are attempting to reverse the brain drain.

Take that, Wolfy.

MoveBackToNebraska.com has gone as far as posting job openings and business opportunities on its site. MBTN also has a "Community Wish List," where a town can identify a specific type of business it would like to see grace its Main Street or anchor its industrial park.

Sales pitches designed to bring home Nebraskans usually are part economic opportunity and part Hallmark card, tugging at that part of us that equates the state with simple, sentimental goodness and family.

Bring back best

While the official push to bring 'em back is in its early stages, many "formers" are already "once agains," including yours truly. And we did it without the help of Web sites or offices of economic development.

That is not a knock on the state or MBTN, only a matter of record. Quite to the contrary, I think any effort intended to bring back our best and brightest is money and time well-spent.

No need to go parochial either. I suppose non-Nebraskans could use the MBTN Web site to see what opportunities are available west of the Missouri and east of Cheyenne. If we cast a wide net for capable Nebraskans and happen to catch an exceptional engineer from Indiana or a gifted teacher from Texas, we're better for it.

My experience as a returning native adds another dimension, however -- one the Nebraska Department of Economic Development obviously recognizes. Those who return home to live often do so because young people usually fly first and put down roots later.

And if you're planting in a familiar field, the soil can deepen roots. Returnees will probably stay returned.

My wife (also a native) and I lived in Los Angeles for 10 years, a period of time that allowed us to experience ZIP Codes and lifestyles vastly different than any we had known. Our California experience was exhilarating, educational and defining.

We went to California primarily because of economics; we came home because of Hallmark: Family connections and a simplified life had taken on more importance. We were tired of spending time in our vehicles. We traded earthquakes for tornadoes and Sig Alerts for four seasons, two of which can be extreme.

Others may have come back to Nebraska because of work. Still others are here perhaps because of a combination of the two.

Economic self-esteem

We have stayed, too, avoiding an apparent and continued out-migration that the eco devos worry about -- as well they should.

One hint for recruiters: When we eventually looked for work, we were both told on a number of occasions that we were "over-qualified." We chalked this up to salary considerations rather than a tribute to our talent.

Still, the attitude is not economic development; it is poor economic self-esteem.

Not that I qualify, but why shouldn't Nebraska have the top engineers, doctors, bankers, entrepreneurs, financial advisers and workers of every stripe? What does it tell you about a state when it determines that someone is too "qualified" for it?

Talented and creative professionals, community leaders and standup citizens fill every corner of the state. Go with that.

Bravo to the Nebraska Department of Economic Development for recognizing that -- even though Thomas Wolfe may have written a great book and regardless of whether it's the head or the heart that gets you there -- you can go home again

George Ayoub is senior writer at The Independent. His e-mail is george.ayoub@theindependent.com. Read his blog, "A Shoe on the Freeway," at www.theindependent.com/george.



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