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Groups try to bring back former Nebraskans

By CRYSTAL R. REID / The Associated Press

OMAHA — Don’t take the state for granted, says a Nebraska expatriate turned resident again.

Sense of community, cost of living and a great job opportunity enticed former Columbus native Dan Davidchik back to his hometown, away from the higher cost of living and stress of Denver, Colo.

“People ask me ’Why move back?“’ Davidchik said. “Because day in and day out, living in Nebraska is a lot more pleasant than where I was living.”

Even so, the state has been losing its youth and its retirees, said Don Mihovk, vice president for communications for the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Although Mihovk doesn’t have figures, he said the drain is certain.

“We educate and provide a great education for our citizens, but sometimes they look beyond the state,” Mihovk said. “We just want to let them know that they can come back.”

Davidchik was one of those: He moved away after high school, attended college at Iowa State and later moved around with the military.

He was working in Denver as a manufacturing consultant when his wife and father-in-law encouraged him to attend a Nebraska job fair held in Denver.

He went and now the Columbus native is back in his hometown with his young family, working as a project coordinator at Central Community College.

That job fair was part of an effort by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development to increase the state’s population, said Richard Baier, director of the department.

And recruiting former Nebraskans seems to be the way to go, Baier said.

“We believe the best opportunities are with people who have had connections to the state or the region,” Baier said.

The department is working with the state’s colleges and universities, alumni associations and others across the state to fit Nebraska jobs with those who’ve left the state.

MoveBackToNebraska.com partnered with the department to offer a comprehensive job hunting resource.

Mitch Arnold, president of Preferred Partners LLC — an Omaha-based sales and Web consulting firm, created the site after his own experiences in trying to get back to his home state.

The Loup City native lived in Washington, D.C., then North Carolina for about seven years. He felt rooted there by his job, house and small family. But, he said, “I knew I wanted to come back, because that was home.”

Finding a job and moving was difficult, he said, but he made it.

His Web site has a function that lets Nebraska employers search for job candidates from a database of about 100 former Nebraskans, Arnold said.

The new function was added about a month ago, and no matches have been made yet. Arnold’s goal is to match at least one or two a month.

A similar effort in Norfolk has had some success: The Norfolk Area Recruiters doubled its expected goal for its first year, enticing six families back to the Norfolk area in 2005.

“The job opportunities are what brought them back,” said Kim Wilcox, director of the recruiting group. “We just helped out with finding leads, finding a Realtor for housing, bankers and whatever else they needed.”

The group contacts graduates from Norfolk and other area high schools, Wilcox said. It was formed late in 2004 and sent out its first newsletter in 2005.

Business Beyond the Farm is another recruiter of former Nebraskans, Baier said. It was established by two former Nebraskans to help recruit people to the state’s more rural areas.

The state has a lot to offer, Baier said. The lower cost of living and family communities attracted both Arnold and Davidchik.

“When you get older, you realize there’s more to life than palm trees and mountains,” Davidchik said.



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