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The Best Places in Nebraska for Job Seekers

Dec. 16, 2013
Home Search, Mortgages
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The Cornhusker State is on the rise. Nebraska has the third-lowest unemployment rate in the nation, at just 3.9 percent in October, beaten only by North Dakota and South Dakota. With these prospects, Nebraska is undoubtedly one of the best states for job seekers; however, not all places offer the same opportunities, and cost of living can be a big factor. To help, NerdWallet crunched the numbers to find the best places for job seekers in Nebraska.

We found the best places for job seekers in the state by asking the following questions:

  1. Is the county growing? We assessed growth in the working-age population, ages 16 and older, from 2009 to 2011 to ensure that the county was attracting workers and exhibiting a trend of upward population growth.
  2. Can you afford to live in the county comfortably? We measured a county’s median household income to see if workers made a good living. We also analyzed the monthly homeowner costs, including mortgage payments, to see if the county had a reasonable cost of living.
  3. Are most people employed? We looked at the unemployment rate.


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The Best Places in Nebraska for Job Seekers

1.     Colfax County

Colfax County, located in eastern Nebraska, consists of 411 square miles. Its county seat, Schuyler, is home to a population of 6,211 and is also the county’s largest city. Colfax County borders Platte County, which is home to Columbus, Nebraska’s 10th-largest city. Between 2009 and 2011, Colfax County saw a working-age population increase of 5.6 percent. The county’s households earned a median income of $46,685 in 2011 as well. Major employers in Schuyler include Cargill Meat Solutions, QC Supply and Alegent Creighton Clinic. Schuyler is home to Cargill Community Learning Center, which provides adult-education opportunities.

2.     Cedar County 

Located in northeastern Nebraska, Cedar County sits on the South Dakota-Nebraska border. The county seat, Hartington, is home to a population of 9,066. Cedar County’s working-age population grew by 3.2 percent between 2009 and 2011, and its unemployment rate is a low 2.7 percent. Hartington’s largest employers included Cedar Catholic High School, Hydraulic Component Inc. and Hartington Concrete. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has a campus in Cedar County that has an entrepreneurship program to help develop the area’s economy.

3.     Wayne County 

Wayne County, in northeastern Nebraska, was formed in 1870. In 2012, Wayne County was home to 9,554 residents, and its county seat and largest city is Wayne. From 2009 to 2011, the county saw 3.0 percent growth in the working-age population. In addition, Wayne County households earned a median income of $46,418 in 2011. Wayne County’s largest employers include Great Dane Trailers, NorthStar Services and Pacific Coast Feather Co. Wayne State College is another top employer and provides its students and alumni with career services such as career planning and job search assistance. NorthStar Services in located in Wayne and helps the local community find work opportunities, whether it is community employment, self-employment or volunteer work.

4.     Holt County

Holt County, located in north-central Nebraska, spans 2,413 square miles and is home to 10,396 residents. Holt County is a part of the Outback region of Nebraska, along with Boyd, Rock, Blaine, Brown, Keya Paha and Cherry Counties. Households in Holt County earned a median income of $46,292 in 2011, and the county’s unemployment rate of 2.9 percent is well below the state average. In the O’Neill area, major employers include Nonpareil Rdo, Garden Fresh Vegetables and Golden LivingCenter. O’Neill, the county seat, is home to O’Neill Education Center, a location of Northeast Community College. There, the college offers business and industry training as well as adult education.  The county’s economic development office offers residents access to job postings as well.

5.     Red Willow County

Red Willow County, home to 10,975 residents in 2012, is located in southern Nebraska. Red Willow County borders Kansas to its south, and its county seat is McCook. The county’s working-age population increased 2.1 percent between 2009 and 2011. Its unemployment rate was a low 3.3 percent in August, down from 4.1 percent in July. McCook is home to a population of 7,652, and its major employers include BNSF Railway Company, Community Hospital and Parker Hannifin. McCook Career Center is open to all locals looking for job-seeking assistance, and the McCook Economic Development Corporation provides career help online.

6.     Hall County

Hall County is situated in south-central Nebraska, off I-80. Its county seat is Grand Island, the fourth-largest city in Nebraska. Between 2009 and 2011, Hall County saw a working-age population increase of 4.5 percent and a median income of $47,469 in 2011. Major employers in the county include JBS, Saint Francis Medical Center and Case IH. Grand Island is home to Central Community College, which offers students 22 career education programs such as accounting, automotive technology and business. Grand Island also has a Career Center provided by the Nebraska Workforce Investment Act. Here, residents can find help with resume writing, job training and other job seeking services.

7.     Sarpy County 

Located in eastern Nebraska, Sarpy County is the third-most populous county in Nebraska. Bordering Iowa, Sarpy County is located south of Omaha. While Papillion is the county seat, the largest city in the county is Bellevue, the third-largest city in Nebraska. The county saw working-age population growth of 5.7 percent between 2009 and 2011, and households earned a high median income of $69,018 in 2011. The top employers in Sarpy County include PayPal, Offutt Air Force Base and Werner Enterprises. Bellevue University is based in Bellevue and provides Continuing & Professional Education in information technology, human resources and leadership as well as an Entrepreneur Bootcamp to help small businesses get started.

8.     Kearney County

Located in southern Nebraska, Kearney County had 6,485 residents in 2012. Minden is the largest city in the county, with a population of 2,960, as well as the county seat. In 2011, Kearney County households earned a median income of $54,611, and in 2013, the county’s unemployment rate was a mere 2.9 percent. Minden’s top employers included Royal Engineered Composites, Minden Machine Shop and Grayson Tool Company. The Kearney County Economic Development Agency was formed in 2004 to help the region develop their economy and attract new businesses.

9.     Knox County

Knox County is located in northeastern Nebraska, bordering South Dakota to its north. Its county seat is Center, located in the center of the county, while large cities in the county include Bloomfield and Creighton. From 2009 to 2011, Knox County saw an increase of 1.5 percent in its working-age population, and its unemployment rate of 3.0 percent in October 2013 was below the state average. Bloomfield’s top employers include Michael Foods, Good Samaritan Society and NorthStar Services.

10.  Custer County 

Custer County is located in the center of Nebraska and covers 2,576 square miles. Its county seat, Broken Bow, is also the largest city in the county. The county has a high median household income, at $43,657 in 2011, while keeping a low median monthly homeowner cost, at just $892. Additionally, Custer County has a very low unemployment rate, at just 2.7 percent in August 2013. Top employers in Custer County include BD, Jennie M. Melham Memorial Medical Center and Adams Land & Cattle. Broken Bow is home to an extended campus of Mid-Plains Community College, which offers local businesses customizable job training.

Rank County County Seat Working-Age Population Change (2009 to 2011) Median Household Income (2011) Median Monthly Homeowner Costs (2011) Unemployment Rate (2013) Overall Score
1 Colfax County Schuyler 5.6% $46,685 $966 3.3% 76.3
2 Cedar County Hartington 3.2% $42,857 $983 2.7% 73.5
3 Wayne County Wayne 3.0% $46,418 $1,016 3.4% 73.1
4 Holt County O’Neill 1.6% $46,292 $926 2.9% 72.9
5 Red Willow County McCook 2.1% $42,627 $896 3.3% 71.0
6 Hall County Grand Island 4.5% $47,469 $1,143 3.3% 70.9
7 Sarpy County Papillion 5.7% $69,018 $1,530 4.0% 70.2
8 Kearney County Minden 0.3% $54,611 $1,021 2.9% 69.2
9 Knox County Center 1.5% $38,965 $888 3.0% 68.6
10 Custer County Broken Bow 0.0% $43,657 $892 2.7% 67.7
11 Keith County Ogallala 3.8% $42,705 $997 3.2% 67.6
12 Cheyenne County Sidney 1.6% $50,143 $1,151 3.0% 66.9
13 Clay County Clay Center 3.0% $45,590 $898 2.9% 66.7
14 Lincoln County North Platte 2.2% $49,521 $1,196 3.1% 66.5
15 Dawes County Chadron 5.0% $36,396 $982 3.4% 66.0


The overall score for each county was derived from the following measures:

  1. Population change from 2009 to 2011 from the U.S. Census (2009 and 2011 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS))
  2. Median household income from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, half-weighted)
  3. Monthly homeowner costs with mortgage payments from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, half-weighted)
  4. Unemployment rate from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2013)

56 counties and equivalents designated by the U.S. Census were included in this analysis. Only counties with a population over 5,000 were considered.

Photo Credit: Downtown Omaha, Nebraska Skyline by shannonpatrick17

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